Nelson Lichtenstein

Nelson Lichtenstein teaches history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Demo-cracy. He is the author of The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business.

Recent Articles

A Fabulous Failure: Clinton’s 1990s and the Origins of Our Times

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
This article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Hillary Clinton’s loss of the industrial Midwest to Donald Trump sealed her fate on Election Day 2016. This defeat, both narrow and catastrophic, had many architects, but one of the most consequential occupied the White House nearly 25 years before, when her husband faced an America whose stagnant economy, rampant deindustrialization, and giant trade deficit cried out for structural reforms to decisively break with Reagan-style laissez-faire and renew the allegiance of hard-pressed voters with the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson. But this was precisely what Bill Clinton failed to do. Many recall the 1990s as a moment of economic triumph with increasingly low unemployment, 4 percent annual economic growth, a booming stock market, even a balanced federal budget by the end of the millennium. Economists Alan Blinder and Janet Yellen called those years the “Fabulous Decade...

Wal-Mart Tries to Go to Town

America’s mega-retailer can’t boost profits unless it gains entry to America’s 
largest cities. Against stiff resistance, it’s still trying.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the most eye-catching graphic in the Wal-Mart annual report was the “measles map” of the United States, in which each dot represented a company store or distribution center. At first, they were all clustered in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, Wal-Mart’s home turf, but then, year by year, the map charted a seemingly inexorable, disease-like spread as state after state became densely covered with scores of little black dots. The Midwest and South were largely dot-filled by the end of the 1980s; New England and much of the Pacific Coast were spotted less than a decade later. Soon, more than 4,000 dots filled the U.S. map, taking up almost every available space. Wal-Mart executives dropped the measles map in 1994, because, well, a lot of people thought of the company’s growth as something close to a cancerous malady corrupting the body politic. Why reinforce that imagery? More important, though, the dot-filled graphic was...