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Tuesday, March 27, 2007
(5:50 PM) | Stephen:
Wal-mart Is The Biggest Donor

Update: Revised and expanded a bit as per the excellent point Sanpete made in comments. Still not perfect, but more accurate and better at comparing apples to apples.

As a staunch Wal-mart critic - friends always make sure to justify any trips they make to there - it's encouraging to hear that Wal-mart was the top corporate donor for 2006, giving $272.9 million, most of it as cash. I suppose it's time to rethink some opinions about Wal-mart.

Ha ha. Just kidding, folks! No, let's take a closer look at these numbers instead. The MSNBC article helpfully mentioned that Wal-mart had profits of $12.2 billion in 2006. So their charitable giving represents 2% of their profits. Does that still sound like so much?

What if you found out that Target gives 5% of their federal taxable income, and always has? Of course, they only manage to eke out around $150 million a year. Sure is a shame they're not as generous as Wal-mart. I couldn't find a specific line-item in their annual report of "federal taxable income," but Target gives about $166 million a year, which works out to be 3% of their total revenues. But that's pretty close to Wal-mart's 2%, right?

Let's see, if Wal-mart was in the habit of giving 5% 3%, that would have meant $610 $366 million to charity last year. Oops, I forgot that when I figured Wal-mart's level of giving, I was basing it off their profits. Let's compare apples-to-apples and see what Wal-mart's level of giving is in relation to their income. In 2006, Wal-mart posted earnings of $312.4 billion. $272.9 million represents 0.8% of $312.4 billion. If they gave 5% 3% of their income, that would be over $1.5 $9 billion (I don't know what happened with my math on that one).

In other words, Target Corporation gave over 5 times 3 times more to charity than Wal-mart. They did it while paying higher wages and providing better benefits to their employees. And I only used Target because they're the #2 retailer and the obvious choice. It would actually be simpler to list the corporations that are less charitable than Wal-mart than to try and detail the droves of corporations that managed to give more than the loose change found in their executives' couches and car coin trays.

One of our most persistent habits as a species is to be impressed with large numbers regardless of whatever context there may be. Americans in particular use this to our advantage, such as Wal-mart being able to claim that they gave the most to charity in 2006. Consider also those who point out that the USA gives the most aid, both from governmental and private sources, to poor and disaster-stricken areas of the world. This argument is also used to justify tax cuts for the rich and large expenditures by churches, as is happening right now at First Family Church in Kansas City. So long as we focus merely upon the plain numbers and pay no attention to the amount of wealth being generated and/or controlled, wealthy citizens and large corporations will continue to reap the very real financial benefits of being perceived as "generous" while doling out what could quite literally be considered their pocket change.

cross-posted at Ezra's place

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