While I very much appreciated the good Anark's engaging and thoughtful write-up, and felt great sympathy with the sentiments behind it, I found myself shaking my head in disagreement over a few points.
Anark implies that all people in the industrialized world can afford to pay more for things than Wal-Mart charges. "Fifty cents more for a carton of orange juice won't break your budget," s/he reasons. I wish that, for all of us, that were true. But the truth is that many many North Americans live at, or well below, the poverty line, and a savings of fifty cents is a major savings, particularly when multiplied by many fifty cent savings on many items. I know that it's only through heinous practices that Wal-Mart is able to have such low prices, but they do have low prices, and for people who are barely able to make ends meet, low prices are the bottom line. Give my kids orange juice every day or take the high moral road? I'll go for the orange juice.
Then there's the statement that "educated Americans" regard Wal-Mart as a menace. The unstated implication is that people who don't regard Wal-Mart as a menace are uneducated. That's better than saying they're stupid, but it's still a little insulting. And the fact is that even if all people knew everything Anark knows, they still might make different choices about how to live their lives than s/he would. In fact, I'm sure some of them would. Some of them would choose Wal-Mart. Some people are just like that, and no amount of "education" will make them behave the way Anark (or I) might want them to. This is, in fact, the essence of freedom, isn't it? To allow people to make their own choices, no matter how wrong-headed it might appear to you.
Many people decry the fact that McDonald's is in Beijing, Pizza Hut in Bangkok. They bemoan the loss of indigenous cultures and the relentless steamroller of capitalist consumerism. While I have great sympathy with this argument, it seems to me that we must assume that the Chinese, the Thai - indeed all people, as I've been arguing - have the capacity to think. And that means that they're going to have all kinds of different views and all kinds of different practices. Some are going to go for the Big Macs, and some are not. Hey, those are the choices we have here in the industrialized world; why shouldn't others?
Finally, from how it looks to me up here in Canada, there are some pretty nasty fundamentalist Christians down there in the United States who'd like nothing better than to take away many Americans' freedom: women's ability to get an abortion, say, or Muslim people's freedom to worship in peace. So let's not jump from despair and poverty to fascism and fundamentalism too quickly. Plenty of fascistic nonsense gets spouted in the free world too.