Americans have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. Some believe it's the best thing since nylon pantyhose, big-screen TVs and Ziploc baggies. That you can find all three products under one large, sprawling flat roof not only signals one-stop shopping but also the megastore's generosity. As an institution, it is a watershed in the unfolding of a peculiarly American form of consumer democracy. Insomuch as we buy (pardon the pun) the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen's notion of "development as freedom," it expands democratic participation in our own country. It transforms the have-nots into haves, making them participants in an "ownership society," while the haves become have-mores, acquiring ever more at a discount. At the same time, there are those who see this economy of convenience as but a form of bogus democracy. While promising the American dream to shoppers, Wal-Mart's internal structure, its low pay and penchant for hiring without benefits throw a wrench in the machine of upward mobility... More >>>