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The Anti-Walmart Motto

September 2012

If Walmart really tried, I doubt they could have picked a slogan more completely counter to the wisdom, values and insights of global movements of small farmers and indigenous peoples.

The difference between “Live better” (Walmart’s latest slogan) and “living well” (the organizing principle of small farmers around the world) means the difference between personal success and community contentment.
And whereas Walmart wants to “Save money,” indigenous and peasant groups in the Global South want to save the planet through grassroots alternatives to corporate globalization.


What’s so bad about saving money and living better? Well, nothing I suppose on a case by case basis. The issue with “better” – which for the global superstore means always consuming more – requires individuality and dissatisfaction. One cannot get ahead if everyone is going forward at the same pace.  The goal is not to lift up the 99 percent, but to be part of the 1 percent.
  Living better is built around five myths:

  1. Whatever you have now is not good enough.
  2. We deserve to live better, regardless of the impact on others.
  3. Infinite resources and constant discoveries will allow us to keep living better – both now and into the future.
  4. Better is, well, better. Having the same as our parents, our neighbors or our ancestors is insufficient.
  5. Whoever doesn’t want to live better is off kilter somehow, and certainly not really American.

Unlike the Walmart model, indigenous and peasant groups around the world – particularly in the Global South – embrace a model of living known as “el buen vivir,” or living well. To live well, in harmony with the earth and in community with one another, moves us toward sustainability – of substance and spirit. It embraces a model of development in which land, water and food – and air – are the right of all, and recognizes the collectivity of our interrelated lives.
  Living well is built around five principles:

  1. We all need to live well, to have enough to sustain ourselves and our communities.
  2. Over-consumption by some leads to deprivation of others. The more concentrated the hoarding by some (of, say the 1 percent), the deeper the scarcity of others. 
  3. Mother Earth generously gives us the resources we need to live. But those resources need to be cared for, not plundered, because we have but one Earth – with finite resources. The Seventh Generation will witness our values by the land, water and air they inherit.
  4. Abundance may happen in a good harvest. So, too, scarcity may happen in a drought. Collectively we can plan and prepare to sustain ourselves.
  5. Whoever doesn’t want to live well is off kilter somehow, and certainly out of harmony.

The clash of these two value systems occurs daily around the world, often under the guise of development. One example: The Caracol Industrial Park in Haiti.

Funded by USAID and the World Bank, Caracol is arguably the largest foreign investment project undertaken in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. The industrial park in the country’s Northeast will house manufacturing companies on more than 600 acres of prime agricultural land. Thus far, no provisions have been made to house workers, handle waste, assess potential environmental impact in the nearby fishing waters, or determine the net effect of lost agricultural production on a food-importing nation.

But Caracol pushes forward because it is built on the powerful myth of “living better” – i.e. living a more modern existence based on production, consumption and money. This is the lifeblood of global capitalism and it pumps through the veins of transnational corporations and the governments they endorse.

Not lost on Haitians, nearly one-quarter of all post-earthquake recovery money allocated for Haiti is being spent on the Caracol manufacturing plant, miles from the epicenter of the disaster 400,000 refugees still live in tents and rubble.

Some people may live better as a result of the Caracol development project. A few of them might even be Haitian. Most, however, will shift into low-wage jobs that recreate the cycle of dependency so painstakingly perpetuated by bad development policies there over the decades.

What would it mean to live well, rather than “better,” in Haiti? What kind of development model would increase el buen vivir?

According to Camille Chalmers the director of the Haitian Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA, a Grassroots International partner), Haiti needs to create systems to move the island from relying on food aid to one that establishes food sovereignty.  Shortly after the earthquake, Chalmers outlined steps Haiti needed to take to rebuild sustainably, including to “Construct food sovereignty based on comprehensive agrarian reform, prioritizing agricultural investments that respect ecosystems, biodiversity, and the needs and culture of the majority.” For him, as for other movement leaders, the key isn’t living better than those around, but rather living with respect within a whole, healthy system.

The Caracol manufacturing plant is located on prime agricultural land – a scarcity in the largely denuded country. More than 360 people who farmed the state-owned land on the site have been pushed aside. Alternative development policies that place food sovereignty and local control at the center, would instead provide agroecological training to area farmers, encourage local farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, and nurture the soil for future sustainability.

Nikhil Aziz, Executive Director of Grassroots International, summarizes it this way:
  What would a holistic rehabilitation and development plan of this nature require? Much more than money! It would require a reversal of policies which are at their heart counter to healthy, sustainable development. It would mean a stop to attempts to pry Haiti’s economy open to imports; it would mean an end to balancing Haiti’s budget by cutting health and education spending; it would mean implementing policies for environmentally-friendly food sovereignty so that Haitians can eat the food they grow in fields that hold the soil; it would mean a massive virtuous circle of support for both the governmental and non-governmental sectors so that they can grow strong together.
This model allows families to live well, to have enough food to eat, opportunity for education, safe housing and dignity. No one gets rich (which is why it doesn’t appeal to corporations and global financiers) but fewer people go hungry. That may not sell for Walmart, but it’s something we can all live with.  Graphic courtesy of

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