Consider the following stunning fact: together with a few sister “big box” stores (Target, Best Buy, and Home Depot), Wal-Mart accounts for roughly 50% of America’s much vaunted productivity growth edge over Europe during the last decade. Fifty percent! Similar advances in wholesaling supply chains account for another 25%!
The notion that Americans have gotten better at everything while other rich countries have stood still is thus wildly misleading. The US productivity miracle and the emergence of Wal-Mart-style retailing are virtually synonymous.
The key thing to note, however, is that if Wal-Mart had done something different—if it had jumped ahead to Minnesota before it had built out its network—it wouldn't have been Wal-Mart. It would have been undercutting the strategy that made it successful in the first place.
Americans, in turn, must think about where the proper balance lies between aesthetics, community, and low prices.