OLD Media Moves

Discussion on CNBC makes participant cringe

November 10, 2009

James Ledbetter, the editor of The Big Money, writes about a recent appearance on CNBC where he was part of a panel that discussed the effect of Wal-Mart on society with Dennis Kneale and a University of Michigan professor.

Ledbetter writes, “I cringe to provide a link to the segment, but here it is. My fellow guest was a business professor from the University of Michigan, who has advocated that Wal-Mart should be given the Nobel Peace Prize. I tried to argue that it’s strange to say that anything that lowers prices is intrinsically good. Kneale interrupted me with the comment ‘It is!’

“Well, if unemployment is good, then slave labor is better, right? If Wal-Mart could lower its labor costs to zero, imagine how rock-bottom its prices could be. I asked Kneale: ‘If [a $35] DVD player is produced by slave labor in China, is that a good thing?’ His reply: ‘Yeah, it’s a real good thing, if I can buy it for $35.’

“It seemed hard to believe that someone would actually say this on television. I followed up today by e-mailing CNBC’s PR department, which sent me this response from Kneale: ‘Of course I would never endorse slavery.  I was saying lower prices are always good and that no supplier cuts prices below what they can support.  I believe jobs in China that supply U.S. companies likely pay far better than many local jobs in the Chinese economy; and that globalization and free trade have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the developing world. In fact, by 2012 almost a billion people across Southeast Asia will triple their per-capita income to join a new middle class. That is due to supplying companies like Walmart.’

“This at least approaches a coherent position, and might have made an enlightening discussion. But on camera, CNBC anchors wanted to attack me for mentioning slave labor at all.”

Read more here.

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