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Hancock Park Author Rick Wartzman to Speak at Chevalier’s Books Tuesday

Hancock Park-based business writer Rick Wartzman will speak on his new book “Still Broke” at Chevalier’s Books Tuesday at 6 p.m.


In his timely new book, “Still Broke, Walmart’s Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism,” Hancock Park business writer Rick Wartzman offers a fascinating look at the evolution of a once-vilified corporate giant into a more socially responsible company putting workers and the planet first. It’s timely, Wartzman explains, because  there are clear consequences to our nation with an economy based on low wage jobs.

Wartzman’s connection to Wal-Mart goes way back, as does his criticism of the way the company treated its workers. In 2002, while he served as the Business Editor of the Los Angeles Times, Wartzman shaped what became the Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning three part series on the company, called the “Wal-Mart Effect.”  But in 2015, after being famously criticized for how the company treated its minimum wage workers, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon decided to invest in the workers and position themselves as a more socially responsible company.

Speaking to the Buzz about the upcoming release of his book, Wartzman said that despite his critical views, or maybe because of them, his new role as business historian and Director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute, where he’d previously served as Executive Director since the Institute’s founding in 2007 until early 2016, offered unprecedented access to the company’s leaders. Here was his chance to go inside and see how Wal-Mart’s transformation occurred and examine what it means to real people. According to Wartzman, the change of heart was likely due to the relentless pressure of negative public opinion and an exceedingly high turnover rate among employees that was hurting sales. Regardless, the decision to position itself as a more social responsible company and invest in its workers by increasing wages was noteworthy and intriguing.

How would Wartzman square the aspirations of the company with the worrisome fact that the average worker still make less $29,000 a year, hardly a livable wage in most cities in the U.S.?

“Somewhere between 25 to 40% of the labor force — you’re talking 40 to 65 million people — struggle to make ends meet,” Wartzman said.  In the end, he also offers a simple truth:  too many American’s simply don’t earn enough money, and despite the best efforts of Corporate America, it will take government leadership to fix the problem.

“Companies can and should do more,” Wartzman contends. “It’s moving in the right direction and that’s a good thing, but Corporate America will never get there on its own. There’s too much pressure from Wall Street and in most corporate business models the shareholders are still first in line.”

This book, his fifth, is a natural follow on to his previous book, “The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America,” which looked at the social contract between employer and employee, and how it unraveled, told through the lens four companies – General Motors, General Electric, Kodak, and Coca-Cola. Written during the pandemic, Wartzman would go back and forth between the company and the workers developing a complicated picture of the good and the bad. He told us he was surprised to meet people at the company who were more progressive than he thought – interested in listening to their critics and genuinely caring about becoming a smarter company. But clearly there were limits to what they could achieve.

“The federal minimum wage is $7.25,” said Wartzman, saying it’s been stuck at that level for years.

In listening to Wartzman, you can’t help but wonder if he’s on to something transformational. While he’s not an expert in homelessness, and that is certainly not the subject of this book, Wartzman told us homelessness is one of the very real consequences of persistently low wages. His book hits the market shortly after  Los Angeles voters are optimistic that Mayor-Elect Karen Bass can really make progress on solving homelessness, most agree is the city’s most pressing problem.

“We know how to fix this,” suggested Wartzman. “We need to give workers more of a voice; we need to restore overtime pay and offer health coverage and pay a living wage.”

“Rick Wartzman proves, once again, why he is America’s most compelling historian of corporate culture. “Still Broke” is fair-minded, exacting, and brutally clear that achieving humane wages for frontline workers will take more than good intentions. This should be required reading for every CEO, union leader, and politician in America,” Evan Osnos, staff writer, New Yorker, and author of Wildland wrote in praise of Wartzman’s book.

Wartzman is modest but hopeful. His goal, he explained, was to “put out ideas so they become part of the conversation and hopefully stimulate a meaningful conversation among public policy leaders and elected officials” and us, concerned citizens.

Wartzman will be speaking at Chevalier’s Books on Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. Click here to reserve a spot.


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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