Back in May I visited Bentonville, Arkansas, following my trip to Little Rock to check out Allied Cycle Works. I figured if I was going to be in Arkansas I owed it to myself to go check out the trail system being built there. I mean, I’d heard it was that good. I’ll admit that initially I wasn’t sure what to think of trails built by Walmart profits.
It’s hard to describe what Walmart has done to small towns across the country as anything other than vampiric. I watched how the downtown of Greenfield, Massachusetts, was gutted seemingly overnight following the opening of a Walmart in town. My town, Northampton, told Walmart to take a hike, and the downtown there is still a vibrant place sporting dozens of small businesses.
So between the way that Walmart’s low prices have killed thousands of small businesses that were the life blood of communities everywhere, and the fact that their management has seen fit to pay the bulk of their employees subsistence wages, the corporation has exacted a toll on the American populace that has made them fabulously wealthy. It’s stomach turning to a great many people.
With the announcement that RZC Investments has bought Rapha, there’s been considerable blowback in the cycling community from one-time Rapha fans conflating RZC with Walmart itself. That conflation, unsurprisingly, has resulted in many people announcing that they will no longer purchase Rapha products because of how Walmart behaves in the market.
So while I have a problem with how Walmart does business, it’s fair to ask what the reasonable response is to a business owned by heirs of the Walmart founder. This is a business with no actual ties to Walmart. RZC isn’t a subsidiary of Walmart. It’s not a PR move to try to make Walmart look a little less gluttonous.
RZC Investments is owned by Steuart and Tom Walton. As grandsons of Sam Walton, there can be no denying that they have benefitted from Walmart, right? That’s where they got their money. However, any money that RZC earns will do nothing to further the business interests of Walmart. It’s also true that they don’t work for Walmart and aren’t responsible for the business practices formulated by their forebears.
Consider that whatever money they have to spend on acquiring cycling companies is money that has already been earned—no matter how we may feel about how it was earned. That money is in their bank account. They are going to do something with that money. They could be spending it on hookers and blow, or golf, or playing the stock market. Instead, they are investing in cycling.
I assume that their families probably encouraged them at some point to put their money into the stock market rather than cycling. Given how corrosive Wall St. has been to much of the United States, choosing cycling over the Dow Jones is a net good for the world.
I think we can agree the larger issue here seems to be one of morality, so I decided to consult the bible.
In the Old Testament, Moses said, “He visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children” (Exodus 34:7). That is, the children were made to pay for the crimes of the father. If your dad was a bad man, you had no future. This is an idea that persisted into the Middle Ages. The Germans had a word for it: Sippenhaft.
Sippenhaft is a kind of guilt by association, that if you are a family member of a criminal, you can be pursued for restitution for your ancestor’s crimes. The concept died out after the Middle Ages, but then was revived in the early 20th century by … the Nazis. Speaking of Nazis, my German friends are—to a person—horrified by what their country did in World War II. They are fine people who don’t subscribe to what the Nazis did. Also, we seem to have forgiven Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen and Porsche for their efforts during the war. So there’s that.
But back to the bible, which also contained, as usual, a completely contradictory idea. In Deuteronomy 24:16 it states, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” It is this idea that found its way into American jurisprudence, that we are each responsible for our own actions, personal injury attorneys notwithstanding.
I’m fortunate that when I look back on my father’s career, he is a man of great integrity and universal respect. I should be so lucky to be as well regarded. However, my father and I are significantly different people. Had his business practices been less ethical, or even unlawful, I’d want a chance to make my own way in the world and to demonstrate that not everyone from my family was driven by darker urges.
Tom and Steuart Walton are not the people who have made the driving decisions at Walmart. From everything I’ve learned, they are committed to cycling in a big way, from directing the family foundation to buy land and build trails on it, to investing in cycling companies. They deserve a chance to make their way in the world and to be judged on the merits of the choices they, not their parents, make.