How We Got into this Mess

Before I start—a disclaimer. If you or anyone you know have been laid off from one of the companies I will mention or are in danger of being laid off, I am genuinely sorry. I DO NOT think this is an ideal situation, and I hope you are able to find work again at a better company. What I am about to say is directed specifically at the owners of these companies, who deserve the blame for your misfortune. Again, if I come across as unsympathetic to your situation, I apologize.

Now to begin…

Lately, it seems that one companies after another falls into bankruptcy or closes its doors for good. Wall Street reels at the prospects of retailers such as Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Macy’s, and others struggling to survive. Circuit City and Linens ‘n Things are gone, and other big names seem doomed to follow. Our economy is in an ever-deepening hole.

But, other than millions of precious jobs, what are we really losing?

Our economy has always been floating in a sinking canoe. Why? Because it’s all based on luxury and the constant craving for more of it.

Circuit City supplied us with the newest “must-have” gadgets: digital cameras, big screen TVs, laptops, cell phones. Macy’s is the famous got-it-all chain that’s spent a century selling clothes, shoes, and beauty products. Linens ‘n Things sold just what its name implies—stuff for your house, like linens.

Here’s my question: which of these stores sells (or sold) items we need to survive?

Wal-Mart does—it is the only one I’ve mentioned so far that sells food (other than the snacks and soft drinks you always find by the front counter of any store).

You’ve heard it before and it’s true: we are nation of consumers. The word consume really has a negative connotation. It carries the idea of gobbling stuff up greedily. Imagine putting a banquet in front of starving man. Even if he hadn’t eaten in a while, he’d just make himself sick trying to make up for it at one meal. Taking in more than you need—that’s consumption.

What does a person need to live? Food, water, covering/clothing (which is also a social need), and shelter (which is different than “a roof over one’s head”—that, too, is a luxury).

As for clothing, most outlets thrive on the idea that customers will change outfits more than celebrities change significant others. We’ve always got to have that “look.” Actually, that is the idea behind every store: once something new comes along, everyone needs to get rid of the old thing so they can keep up with the times. Because that “logic” has been put in our heads, we spend. Stores have more money than they need, so they build dozens more stores so that more people can spend so they’ll have even more money than they need, so that they can build dozens more stores…and so on.

To sum it up, greed.

So when we stop spending, the companies can’t afford their empires anymore.

Wouldn’t it be smarter for them to avoid a collapse in the first place? Why does any city need six Wal-Marts within ten or fifteen minutes of each other? How many electronics stores do we need if they all sell the same thing? And if everyone’s supposed to get the same “look,” why do we need so many clothing stores? (What in the world is that “look,” anyway?!)

I’m no economist or business expert, but it seems to me that the smaller the franchise, the more manageable and successful it can be. Think about it. If you’re selling something people really want, customers will make any length trip to get to your store. Plus, the less available something is, the more valuable it is. So you don’t need six stores. Three or four will be fine. There’s less rent to pay, less inventory to buy, and fewer workers to pay (or lay off if the company ultimately fails).

Okay, let me explain that last part. Everyone deserves a stable job. One that doesn’t change with the times? We always need doctors, nurses, teachers, etc., but not everyone can be those things. That’s what the other jobs are for. NO, I’M NOT SAYING THAT PEOPLE WHO WORK IN RETAIL ARE INFERIOR! I’m simply saying everyone is different. If you’d make a good doctor, be a doctor! Don’t waste time doing something you’re not good at or don’t enjoy, just to make ends meet.

Changing the subject, it should not be surprising that during these times, smaller stores, like Family Dollar and Dollar General, are thriving. These stores, which are seen by some as having lower-quality goods, have become a safety net for the price-weary. They are simple in what they sell, while still having most of the luxuries we demand.

So, to sum everything up, our economy needs an overhaul. What’s happening right now is that overhaul. We are (hopefully) in the process of adjusting to a new idea of the American “consumer,” but the roots of the old ways are so deep that they will continue to be hard and painful to dig up. More stores will fall away, but as long as we still have the essentials and each other, we, the people, will survive.

One more thing: I don’t believe President Obama can solve this. He might be able to help, but in the end, everything will just have to stabilize naturally before things will improve. Besides, the US Government is just like those greedy companies, spending more money than it has. Two words: massive debt.

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