THE GARDENER RETURNS, A DIALOGUE, PART SEVEN

Gardener – The founders of some kingdoms understand their connection with people. They identify with the public. At least in the beginning.
Writer – They believe people will like what they like.
Gardener – Then something happens.
Writer – The co-founder of A&P. . .
Gardener – Which bought Sussel’s butcher shop on Main Street. . .
Writer – John Augustine Hartford, told Time Magazine in 1950, “I don’t know any grocer who wants to stay small. I don’t see how any businessman can limit his growth and stay healthy.”
Gardener – That’s an alarming statement.
Writer – It’s an assumption of a particular breed of people.
Gardener – There’re a lot of small grocers, especially in cities where local populations need something close and convenient.
Writer – And there’d be more in smaller towns if they weren’t put out of business by the rule of One Size Fits All. Unfortunately the one size operations are big, very big.
Gardener – Like the A&P.
Writer – According to Forbes one of the richest man in the United States before he died was Frederik G. H. Meijer
Gardener – Never heard of him.
Writer – Neither had I, but you’ve heard of Sam Walton, who was the richest man in the US for nearly a decade, almost up to the year he died in 1992.
Gardener – Wal-Mart.
Writer – In 2006 Wal-Mart was the largest super market in the USA, according to the Information Service Food Marketing Institute. And that’s just the Kingdom’s grocery end!
Gardener – I’ve never been in one.
Writer – Meijer’s super market style influenced Walton.
Gardener – It’s hard to fault people who work hard even if they go on to create monolithic businesses that swallow up everyone else.
Writer – Walton knew what he liked when he went shopping!
Gardener – The lowest price in town.
Writer – He never spent a penny he didn’t have to spend. According to the American National Business Hall of Fame, he continued driving to work “ in his beat-up 1978 Ford pickup with balding tires” right up to the time he retired.
Gardener – My pickup is 16 years old.
Writer – We’ve all heard phrases like “we pass our savings on to you, the customer.”
Gardener – The idea’s not new.
Writer – Sam Walton found producers willing to sell him produce at reduced rates as long as he bought vast amounts. That way he. . .
Gardener – Passed his savings on to me!
Writer – Correct and the more we save.
Gardener – You mean the more we spend. Fortunately, I take after my mother. I never spend a dime on something I don’t need.
Writer – That makes you, the consumer, like Walton. Only Walton, the vendor, didn’t make his goods “more affordable” because he wanted you to be like him and spend less. He kept finding ways to drop the price, until even you, a skin flint, could “afford” spending your last dime.
Gardener – It’s a topsy turvy world when a snake starts swallowing its own tail.
Writer – In Sweetness And Power, Sidney Mintz describes a world not unlike our own. He quotes an English cleric, David Davies, who describes how rural poor living in the heart of the British empire could no longer drink fresh milk because they couldn’t afford a cow nor drink home brewed beer because they couldn’t afford the malt. But as Davies puts it, and I quote him from Sweetness And Power, Chapter 3, page 116, “. . . it appears a very strange thing, that the common people of any European nation should be obliged to use, as part of their daily diet, two articles imported from opposite sides of the earth.” – he’s referring to Tea and Sugar, the same products the American colonies boycotted ten years earlier. Most Brits in the heart of their own Empire were no better off than the colonists in 1774. They could buy exotic goods produced cheaply by slave labor in tropical islands but were too poor to afford things grown in their own back yard. So much for nationalism.
Gardener – When I started work as a professional gardener at Wave Hill I remember hearing a lot about Sam Walton’s ‘Buying American’ campaign.
Writer – Uncle Sam was the number one all-American guy during the reign of the Kings’ patriotic vassal, Ronald Regal.
Gardener – Maybe Uncle Sam was just trying to get something in country for the same price he could get it from the third world.
Writer – According to the American National Business Hall of Fame: “Between March, 1985 and 1988 Wal-Mart claims to have purchased over $1.2 billion worth of goods under this program, producing 22, 3000 jobs in the United States.”
Gardener – That was in everybody’s best interest.
Writer – But when push comes to shove and keeping costs down means more than being patriotic. . .
Gardener – Flags waving in the breeze, smiling faces, white teeth gleaming.
Writer – Then narrow self-interest is the only pledge of allegiance. According to a November 29th 2004 post on China Daily by China Business Weekly writer, Jiang Jingjing, Wal-Mart’s Chinese inventory for the United States was $18 billion in 2004. The writer quotes Lee Scott, the president and CEO of Uncle Sam’s Kingdom: “ ‘We expect our procurement stock from China to continue to grow at a similar rate in line with Wal-Mart’s growth worldwide, if not faster’.” Later in the post we learn that “Xu Jun, Wal-Mart China’s director of external affairs, ruled out the rumor ” that Lee Scott had secretly visited China in order to find out where Wal-Mart could expand resources. Xu Jun said “the CEO has never visited that or any other site for a warehouse. . . Nevertheless,” Xu Jun exalted, “China is Wal-Mart’s most important supplier in the world. . . So far, more than 70 per cent of the commodities sold in Wal-Mart are made in China.” End of story.
Gardener – I can see old Uncle Sam in Beijing driving out of his personal jet in his old beat up Ford.
Writer – I don’t know about a personal jet. And I think he wanted to keep his growing connections with China a secret. On the other hand the Kingdom’s second and third generation of managers have openly divorced themselves from their so called all American past and now with their own brand name, made in China, compete with their own American suppliers in China.
Gardener – In other words all the Kings are competing to put American workers out of work. Is that in their best interests?
Writer – When Uncle Sam says “he wants you,” he means us, the American consumer, and we’re ready to follow. Richard Tedlow of Harvard Business School quotes Walton from his auto-biography. The founder is reminiscing his return to the town where he opened his first profitable store. Apparently his landlord, seeing how well the young businessman was doing, decided not to renew his lease because he wanted to give the now profitable store to his son. He never realized how far Sam Walton drove to buy cheaper inventory. “You can’t say we ran that guy—the landlord’s son—out of business,” writes Walton. “His customers were the ones who shut him down. They voted with their feet.”
Gardener – The landlord deserved it!
Writer – Especially at those prices.
Gardener – Who did he think he was, trying to make me pay through the nose whenever I thought it was time for a little something. Thank you, Uncle Sam, for putting the customer first!
Writer – Still somebody has to pay for the Pooh Principle. We can’t expect the savings to come out of the Kings’ pockets. The Hartford/Walton model works only if the employees. . .
Gardener – You and me?
Writer – Realize we are also the customers. As citizens of this great merchandizing nation, we must accept reduced salaries to keep costs down. If we as workers can’t keep costs down the vendors can’t pass. . .
Gardener – Their savings onto us, the customers.
Writer – Which means we, the workers aren’t doing . . .
Gardener – Our patriotic duty. We’re forcing our poor, beleaguered Kings overseas.
Writer – However the Kings have another solution to help all of us, vendors, workers and customers alike in our patriotic duty. An idea tested by time. We find precedents in history. A century after the cleric Davies talked of how working class English natives found it easier to buy produce from overseas than goods produced in-country, a nineteenth century English sugar broker, George Porter, still dissatisfied with sugar consumption, wanted to increase sugar imports. In chapter four of Sweetness And Power, at the bottom of page 174, Sidney Mintz describes Mr. Porter’s proposal: eliminate the tax on sugar, and the poor could afford to buy more sugar.
Gardener – Eliminate the tax and pass the savings on to us, the consumer.
Writer – It’s the mantra of political economics. It makes no difference that sugar is an exotic import. The People are already hooked.
Gardener – The way we are today on electronic gadgets produced overseas.
Writer – And who’s to blame?
Gardener – Surely, not the Kings.
Writer – Going back again to the previous century, the Cleric Davies writes “. . . if high taxes, in consequence of expensive wars” – a century of wars in which the British were fighting the French for world markets with the American Revolution in the middle – “and changes which time insensibly makes in the circumstances of countries,” – Industrial Revolution was beginning – “have debarred the poorer inhabitants of this kingdom the use of such things as are natural products of the soil, and forced them to recur to those of foreign growth; surely this is not their fault.”
Gardener – E. F. Schumacher has a great deal to say about this unsustainable absurdity in Small Is Beautiful.
Writer – Absurd as it may seem – it makes sense to Kings because the Kings and their people are making money, lots of money. They just have to find ways of cutting costs so they can . . .
Gardener – Pass on the savings to me!
Writer – Correct! Cutting government taxes is good.
Gardener – The Kings’ people rally the customers. . .
Writer – Sam Walton and me.
Gardener – Around the evils of taxes.
Writer – We can all agree on taxes, vendors and customers and workers alike!
Gardener – Less money for our government, which is too big, too intrusive anyway, and more money for the Kings who always provide us with a little something. . .
Writer – Provided we work for the going market price they have agreed upon!
Gardener – To do otherwise is to terrorize the market place with unhealthy demands!
Writer – On the other hand, and I am afraid to say this, not wanting to offend the fearless supporters of individualism, who literally see themselves as the face, each with a unique face of course, of capitalism, but it seems that the Hartford/Walton model can only be supported by the faceless masses.
Gardener – No! Not here in the Land Of The Free. That’s communism. We’re not the masses, we’re the customers!
Writer – No, it is true, like the godless Marxists, the god fearing Capitalists must look at customers and workers and vendors too as a people without a face, a crowd.
Gardener – I’m offended!
Writer – How can “a people” have a face, an individual face? We can say they are an industrial people, a god fearing people, a war like people.
Gardener – You and I have a face!
Writer – True, you and I recognize each other. But when we are grouped with the rest of the people, we become strangers. Don’t get me wrong. That’s good. In our world once you have a face, you become a commodity, like every other little something! The icon of a new generation of believers, the face on a bill of exchange, a pop star.
Gardener – Don’t you want to be popular? Don’t you want to have friends?
Writer – Friends or no friends, most of us enter a factory as workers and pop out the other end as customers,
Gardener – I don’t know anyone working in a factory anymore.
Writer – All right, we enter an office or a restaurant as workers. . .
Gardener – More like a mail order warehouse.
Writer – Warehouse workers then! At the other end we’re consumers just the same.
Gardener – I don’t think Patrick J. Cullen, the president of the bank in Cattaraugus, New York sees his customers as faceless?
Writer – No, Cullen refutes John Augustine Hartford. When the bank examiners ask him when the bank will grow, he replies, “ ‘where is it written I have to grow? We take care of our customers.’ ”
Gardener – Imagine if all bank presidents knew their customers personally.
Writer – “ ‘The truth is,’ ” he goes on to say, “ ‘we probably couldn’t grow too much in a town like this.’ ”
Gardener – The Hartford/Walton model for expansion is working for somebody. Think of the individuals who’ve become billionaires.
Writer – According to Alan Feuer, the author of The Bank Around the Corner, Mr. Cullen’s bank is financially, “the state’s smallest bank.” It’s “not the kind of bank you’ll find anymore in New York City, where multiple branches and capitalizations counted in 10 figures are the norm. With $12 million in total assets, the Bank of Cattaraugus is a microbank, well below the $10 billion ceiling that defines small banks. It exists in a seemingly different universe from the mammoth banks-turned-financial-services-conglomerates, like Citigroup ($1.9 trillion in assets) or JPMorgan Chase ($2.25 trillion).” Last year the bank posted a profit of $5000.
Gardener – Sounds like peanuts to me.
Writer – “Yet it plays” Mr. Feuer continues, “an outsize role in this hilly village an hour south of Buffalo: housing its deposits, lending to its neediest inhabitants and recently granting forbearance on a mortgage when the borrower, a bus mechanic, temporarily lost his job after shooting off his finger while holstering his gun.” Considering the bank’s 130 year old history, I’d say it has succeeded in serving the community. But let’s not fool ourselves. The Bank of Cattaraugus is an anomaly. Before the Great Depression there were lots of mom and pop banks across the country, just like Mr. Cullen’s bank. Why our grandfather was president of such a bank until 1938 when it merged with the Seattle-First National Bank, “one of the most powerful banks in the west” according to The Colville Examiner.
Gardener – This perennial consolidation of Kingdoms must be why the Hartford/Walton model for expansion is the national model.
Writer – Precisely. But while the Cattaraugus anomaly helps individuals in a particular community, the Hartford/Walton model helps masses of total strangers fulfill the Pooh Principle.
Gardener – We want a little something because we’re special.
Writer – Precisely. Each of us deserves to be somebody.
Gardener – Even if we’re all wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, listening to the same music. We can all be friends.
Writer – Precisely. Aggregates of like minded strangers who each feel unique.
Gardener – But we’re never sure, are we, that we’re all that special? We need more and more little somethings to confirm our uniqueness. We keep hoping this new and improved little something will make us. . . make us even more popular.
Writer – It’s in our best interests.
Gardener – Being popular.
Writer – We deserve it! And you know who understood that?
Gardener – I don’t like the look on your face.
Writer – The Fisherman’s Wife.
Gardener – Wait a minute! She squandered her husband’s resources.
Writer – Squandered nothing, she committed his daily quota to the forces of the market. She understood the value of the fisherman’s work and converted that into a promissory note, payable to her husband. That’s how she exchanged their pigsty for a cottage by the sea. But without skipping a beat she used this increased equity to leverage that big fish, who then increased the value of the loan, which allowed her to exchange the cottage for a castle. That woman knew how to get more for her buck.
Gardener – What buck? She was still penniless. And she still depended on her husband, who knew the big fish.
Writer – That fool!
Gardener – Because he worked outside, he understood the nature of things. There are limitations to growth. It’s common sense.
Writer – Bosh! Only a gardener would say that! He could see himself as a fisherman and no more. But she never underestimated the full value of appearances. The more prosperous one looks, the more prosperous one is!
Gardener – Smoke and mirrors! Everything still depended on the initial loan. She produced nothing to supplement it. Only the fisherman had any means. He did the right thing. He released the flounder.
Writer – The Idiot! You never give something away for nothing! It’s the most important principle of the market place. Always try to get something more in return. Otherwise people think you’re a fool. You’ll never find Uncle Sam giving his merchandise away for nothing!
Gardener – The flounder asked for mercy.
Writer – Naturally. He valued his life. He was willing to give anything to preserve it. She understood that.
Gardener – She turned an act of mercy into an economic advantage.
Writer – It’s capitalism. People do it all the time. We profit from acts of mercy all the time, whether wars of liberation or earthquakes.
Gardener – You’re putting a price on moral behavior.
Writer – Me? Not me, it’s all about market forces. It’s what victims are willing to pay
for mercy. What’s marvelous here is how the fisherman’s wife learned from her mistakes. She was new to the game, a housewife. As soon as she realized she had underplayed her hand by asking for a cottage, she didn’t wallow in self-pity. She forged ahead. She bluffed her advantage. By the end of a week she had a castle, no money down, brilliant!
Gardener – The way you’re talking you’d think money grows on trees.
Writer – Doesn’t it? That is, for those who understand the market. The wife’s fisherman’s a failure. But she notices the weekenders from the city, standing at the water’s edge, are admiring her hopeless husband, the rustic clothes he wears, the sturdy fishing poles he uses, the burly look that first attracted her when she was foolish girl. What does she do? She transfers her real estate momentum into marketing and creates a line of outdoor wear. Soon she’s retailing fishing poles and baskets, which can be used for picnics. This line morphs into gardening apparel and accessories, pink trowels and wide brim hats which can also wear to the beach. She takes the nostalgia of bygone industries and creates new wealth. . . Do you know what? I think we should ride on her coattails and sell the film rights to this idea. Can’t you see it, Barbara Stanwyck in the leading role!
Gardener – Stanwyck’s dead.
Writer – We’ll find someone who looks like her, cast her in the role of Barbara playing the Fisherman’s Wife.
Gardener – What is her name?
Writer – Stanwyck!
Gardener – I mean the Fisherman’s Wife, what’s her name?
Writer – Does it matter? She’s iconic. She’s like any of us, a customer, like Sam Walton, a customer in search of a bargain. Everyone gravitates to a success story. As we buy into her dream, we find that instead of being only customers in search of bigger homes, better kitchens, we are buying her idea of success. Without moaning and groaning about women’s rights she tells her fans she wants to run for public office!
Gardener – The Fisherman is astounded by her ambition.
Writer – Forget that jerk! Who cares what he thinks. She understands the market.
Gardener – And I can’t understand your enthusiasm! It worries me.
Writer – Being a player is one thing, running the show is another. You make the rules when you’re on the top of the pyramid. Even her stupid husband should understand that.
Gardener – He depends on the sea for his livelihood the way the Farmer depends on the land. You can’t exchange the natural world for one of your own making, no matter how picturesque you make it.
Writer – Once a gardener always a gardener. But once you are rich, you can be anything. To prove it, she produces a reality show about her rise in wealth and power. It’s an immediate success on prime time TV. She inspires millions of people, like herself, tied to the mundane. They laugh when she laughs. They wear what she wears, eat what she eats. There’s her boring husband, pleading with her to relinquish her ambition. She keeps him a leash. He’ll do anything she says. After all he’s just her husband. She can have anyone she wants and does! It’s the perfect marriage.
Gardener – What’s gotten into you. You go from being a liberal to. . .
Writer – No one wants to be a fisherman.
Gardener – Nor a gardener, I suppose.
Writer – Mere hobbies! You’ve said so yourself.
Gardener – I was angry when I said that!
Writer – During her presidential acceptance speech at the convention she tells her fans, “My husband was a fisherman, so I was poor, like you. I lived in a pigsty, like you. But in this country you can be anything. I worked hard and see, I’ve made it to the top.” Her fans go wild.
Gardener – Running a castle isn’t the same as running a nation.
Writer – You couldn’t be more wrong. We agree that since the days of the Kings’ vassal, Ronald Regal, our government has been evolving according to the Hartford/Walton business model. Well, there’s a popular show on TV called Downton Abbey that dramatically illustrates that running an estate with a castle is like running a business!
Gardener – You call that a proof? We’re back to “which came first, the chicken or the egg.”
Writer – Irrelevant. If something is said on TV, the truth of it is verified. The fisherman’s wife is now a major player. She rules the country from the 70th floor of the palace. No more waiting in line on Black Fridays for her. As a real estate mogul and marketing genius, her credit rating is sky-high. She’s John Galt in high heels.
Gardener – All the fisherman wanted was a reasonable livelihood. Live and let live.
Writer – And what did he have to show for his work? A pigsty!
Gardener – The cottage by the sea was enough. Now his wife threatens everything.
Writer – There’s risk in everything we do. Don’t be so negative! Think of what she’s attained.
Gardener – What if all her customers realized everything she had she owed to a single promissory note given by a flounder living in the sea?
Writer – They’d call it a miracle! Faith, my friend, is the basis of every investment. The value of our savings grow indefinitely, as long as we believe.
Gardener – It’s only paper.
Writer – Everyday we exchange paper, believing in its worth.
Gardener – Forgetting that paper comes from trees.
Writer – The pages of our holy books are made of paper too. Does that hinder us from seeing beyond each page, god’s ethereal template. Isn’t the Tree of Jesse more than just a tree? The physical world is here to support the ethereal, not the other way around. Every investment the fisherman’s wife made increased her spiritual wealth. She understood the link between scripture and economy. So now she must take her rightful place as the ruler of the world, overseeing god’s work here on the earth.
Gardener – And she still wanted more!
Writer – Oh it’s that husband of hers. Always trying to protect that fish of his.
Gardener – It’s not his fish.
Writer – A talking fish, no less.
Gardener – It is unusual.
Writer – I suppose you’ll call it an endangered species.
Gardener – That’s why it pleaded for its life.
Writer – Look buddy, catching fish is what you do! Go back and get something in return.
Gardener – Calm down. I’m not the fisherman.
Writer – You old fool, do you think we can live on nothing.
Gardener – Get a hold of yourself!
Writer – You took the food right out of our mouths! You, the fisherman, feeling sorry for a fish.
Gardener – That was no regular fish. It talked.
Writer – And it danced no doubt!
Gardener – We’ve got a diagnoses. Everything points to ASS. You’re relapsing with ASS.
Writer – Relapse nothing! You told me the damn thing said it was a prince! ASS?
Gardener – Atlas Shrugged Syndrome. It did.
Writer – And you believed it. You are dumber than I thought. And now that a fast talking fish has you feeling sorry for him. . . What are you looking for? You won’t find diner in that stack of books.
Gardener – The Trustee Of The Toolroom.
Writer – Forget that. You go back out there and settle with the flat fish. Figure in everything you’ve lost and will lose. Tell him because you threw him back in, your wife is threatening to leave you. He can’t have something for nothing. It’s a hard world we live in. The only rule is the market’s iron hand. And don’t go around telling people about a talking fish! We’ll have regulators coming down here and telling us what to do.
Gardener – Where is that book? It’s here somewhere.
Writer – This is a unique moment in history. Our customers are breaking down the barriers separating church and state. What better time to rule both heaven and earth!
Gardener – If you could hear yourself! You sound terrible. You, the idealist. You’re advocating a new world order.
Writer – Let me be. If John Galt. . .
Gardener – You used to believe. . . I found it. Keith Stewart!
Writer – Beliefs. I believe. . .
Gardener – Down with “big!” period. Remember? The bigger the kingdom the more opportunity for failure the farther the network stretches from the founding idea on the seventieth floor of the palace. I’m afraid you’re ill.

FOOTNOTES:

A&P bought Sussel’s butcher shop on Main Street. . .
THE GARDENER RETURNS, A DIALOGUE, PART FOUR

John Augustine Hartford, Interview, Time Magazine, 1950, “I don’t know any grocer who wants to stay small. I don’t see how any businessman can limit his growth and stay healthy.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Atlantic_%26_Pacific_Tea_Company#cite_note-Red_Circle-10

Frederik G. H. Meijer
http://www.forbes.com/profile/frederik-gh-meijer/

In 2006 Wal-Mart was the largest super market in the USA, Information Service Food Marketing Institute
http://www.fmi.org/docs/facts_figs/faq/top_retailers.pdf

Sam Walton drove to work “ in his beat-up 1978 Ford pickup with balding tires” right up to the time he retired, American National Business Hall of Fame
http://www.anbhf.org/laureates/swalton.html

“Between March, 1985 and 1988 Wal-Mart claims to have purchased over $1.2 billion worth of goods under (All American Program), producing 22, 3000 jobs in the United States.” American National Business Hall of Fame
http://www.anbhf.org/laureates/swalton.html

Wal-Mart’s China connection, November 29th 2004 post on China Daily by China Business Weekly writer, Jiang Jingjing
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-11/29/content_395728.htm

Writer – I don’t know about a personal jet.
http://www.xploreutah.net/node/594

Sam Walton on keeping his growing connections with China a secret.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/walmart/secrets/wmchina.html

“(Sam Walton’s) customers were the ones who shut him down. They voted with their feet.” Richard Tedlow of Harvard Business School quoting from Sam Walton’s auto-biography.
http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/2375.html

Gardener – I don’t think Patrick J. Cullen, the president of the bank in Cattaraugus, New York sees his customers as faceless? Alan Feuer, the author of The Bank Around the Corner, NYT 12/2011

Gardener – The way you’re talking you’d think money grows on trees.
ROCK PILE: I:1 WHERE THE GARDENER FAILS TO MOLLIFY THE WRITER WHO DECRIES THE NOTORIOUS PURE LINE DISCOVERED BY THE YOUTH IN HIS BALLAD OF THE BANKBOOK

Gardener – You used to believe. . . I found it. Keith Stewart!
The Gardener Return, A Dialogue, Part Two

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