I remember trips to the mall as a child. I remember the various chain stores that made up a shopping trip – maybe for clothes for a new school year (my parents preferred the Montgomery Ward Outlet Store for that, I shit you not) or just to kill time walking around indoors during the coldest part of the Chicagoland winter. Occasionally I think about the long gone names that were retail in my childhood. Carson Pirie Scott. Wieboldt's. Venture. Ames. LS Ayres. Zayre. Marshall Field. Montgomery Ward. Service Merchandise. And of course the giants – JC Penney, Sears, K Mart, and so on. Today of course it is almost all gone.

The 1990s were the judgment day of the big local department store. Regional powerhouses seemingly all became Macy's overnight. Marshall Field. Hudson. Bon Marche. Wanamaker. Jordan Marsh. Famous-Barr. Gimbel's. I'm sure you can remember your own, too.

The decline of many of the oldest names in department stores was an indication that during the 1980s the retail industry had recklessly over expanded. Suburbs along major highways decided in the 1970s that throwing up a giant mall was a guaranteed property tax goldmine, and with the economic slowdown of 1992 we finally admitted that there was only so much consumption Americans could do.

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Retail looked a bit worse for wear, but it was still a living thing. Then the Internet came along.

Now talk of the "retail apocalypse" is widespread and even Sears – ironically enough the "Amazon" of its day with the encyclopedic Sears Catalog – is sucking fumes. There is no mystery; there is no real reason to go to Sears when Amazon will sell you the same thing without the hassle. When one does go to Sears, as I did about a year ago for some household things when I moved, the sales staff recommend with uncomfortable regularity that you should go home and order the product, which is not in stock, off their website. More recently I visited Sears on a business trip on which I had forgotten to pack under-shirts. Not only was I quite literally the only customer in the store, but I had to search around for a good five to ten minutes to find a high school aged employee who could check me out. Her exact quote when I said "Excuse me" was, "Oh! You scared me." Busy night.

The real cost here is not a price paid in lost nostalgia for familiar brand names.

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The issue is the hundreds of thousands of (generally mediocre at best) retail jobs eliminated or soon to disappear. Retail jobs, remember, are the subpar replacement jobs that hoovered up people whose manufacturing jobs disappeared. These jobs are already one or more steps down the ladder. They barely pay enough for an adult working full time in the position to break even at poverty. And now even these barely adequate jobs are going to disappear.

There is no reason trying to "save" retail. First of all, it can't be done, and second, these jobs are not good enough for the people who hold them to care enough to fight for them. 30 hours weekly folding clothes at Penney's for $9/hr never sent anyone to the picket line; it's the kind of job that you shrug off when you lose it. It is disposable employment.

And that is precisely why this is so troubling. Even the crap work that people end up doing when they can't get a real (read: decently paid, possibly with benefits) job is going to become scarce.

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What precisely is an adult who used to work in a blue collar industry and replaced that career with punching a cash register at K Mart going to when that is gone? What is the next step down?

We are about to confront something that it is clear American politics is not capable of confronting: the possibility that we now have an economy of staggering size and wealth that cannot produce enough full-time jobs for the number of people in this country.

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We can't all make a living getting paid to Uber one another around, and there are only so many menial service industry jobs – making coffee, flipping burgers, etc. – to keep a limited number of people afloat. Structural changes to the economy that our political system refuses to do anything but encourage are going to force us to confront this unprecedented reality sooner rather than later. For years the standard palabrum for economic transition has been to tell the newly unemployed to learn some other skill and transfer to another section of the economy. What happens when there isn't one?

101 thoughts on “J.C. POCALYPSE”

  • A Different Nate says:

    "What happens when there isn't one?"

    Why, that's easy! You just… uh. You… hmm. Ah, well you could… huh.

    Fuck it, let's just elect Donald Trump.

  • And already there's nostalgia for malls in the 'genre' of vaporwave.


    Anyways in comparison to the internet I hate going to the mall / big box store because they're always behind the curve with electronics, don't have my size/style in clothing, and any 'art' stuff is bland pap that appeals to the most milquetoast moms. Not to mention that everything is much more pricy.

    Really that's a good metaphor for the economy, ill fitting, appealing to few, and out of range of most people's price range.

  • I have yet to order electronics or clothes online. The one time I ordered sandals online I had to return them because the size that usually should have fitted me came out way too large in that case. I really cannot imagine buying things like these without the option of trying them, testing them out, and, in the case of expensive / complex items, having a salesperson advise me.

    I guess once all those shops disappear because everybody else is buying from Amazon and eBay I will have to, but I don't understand how it works for everybody else.

  • @Alex your punctuation makes me suspect you're a native German speaker. is your crotchetiness the result of your German-ness, or are you also really, really old?

  • The Sears thing in particular is worth reading further on; in addition to the general retail slump they're grappling with having a full-on Randroid at the helm making dumbfuck decisions based on his imaginary view of how people work.

  • We'll all get jobs at the WalAzon warehouses? I was taken aback when President Obama toured an Amazon distribution center and talked about the "good jobs" there. $12.00-15.00/ hour as a temp. is NOT a "good job".

    Didn't you (Ed) go to Brazil a year or two ago? THAT'S probably where we're heading. A very small, wealthy elite, and a somewhat larger managerial class, and a growing, increasingly poor majority.

    I would agree with cat (ok, I DO), but even war just doesn't employ the number of people it used to.

  • I went to Sears two weeks ago looking for a part for my garage door. The kid in hardware directed me to the "parts department", which is a little room in the back that supposedly contains ALL the parts. I was helped by a very nice lady who recommended – not kidding – that I try the Home Depot down the road or another local company she was familiar with. At least she was honest.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    It's not like there isn't work to do. Every time I come back to the states it looks worse just in terms of the fit and finish. If the US were a used car you would keep right on walking.

    The simple fact is that the wealth in the US spends too much time chasing its own tail in the financial system and not enough time being spent on people to actually DO THINGS. People think conspicuous consumption is immoral, but what's more immoral is to save that money by cranking up real estate prices and blowing bubbles in staple commodities. Rich people need to SPEND THEIR MONEY on things they want so the rest of us can get jobs providing it, and if they'd rather just sit on government paper yielding one percent a year then it should be taken from them and given to people who WILL spend it. Our attitude towards wealth should be, "Use it or lose it".

  • Yeah, you know me–old guy.
    I've been yelling about this since forever. I grew up watching farming go away as an occupation.

    Read Krugman and realize that he waits for data and the economics profession: he's only a decade slow.

    My local supermarket is beginning to pull poorly selling items from the racks. Items that I will now have to have delivered. The delivery warehouse will maintain stock while the main stores turn into 7-11s.

    What will people do? Have you tried to buy a shoe in size 10-1/2C? I'm not talking about buggy whips.

  • I just bought tractor parts over the internet on Friday instead of going to the local Toro dealer, paying an extra $20, dealing with his crappy attitude and still have to wait a week to get the parts.

    Other than grocery stores and one very good local pet food store, (which only exists because the owner was downsized from a big corporation), almost everything I buy is over the internet. I have have set foot in the local mall twice in the last five years I would be shocked.

  • GunstarGreen says:

    Oh, there's plenty of jobs for them to do. The problem is that they can't do it.

    I work in the IT industry, and this industry has a LOT of "off-shore contractors". While it's absolutely true that companies were outsource-happy in the early 2000s as a simple matter of paying less, those chickens came home to roost years ago — companies are tired of dealing with sub-par code and the scheduling hassles that come with using Indian/Russian/Chinese developers.

    But so few Americans are qualified for the work. It's genuinely hard for most companies to place local workers, and the simple fact of the matter is that most American people just don't have the skills to do IT work, and a whole lot of them are at a point in their lives where the training to get those skills — either in terms of raw difficulty or in terms of educational costs — is out of their reach.

    Of course, that would be less of a problem if this country believed in training its workers anymore. If there were any such thing as programmer apprenticeships much like plumbers and electricians had apprenticeships back in the day (and possibly still do?). But THAT cost just isn't doable by a company that insists on paying its C-level people hundreds of standard employees' worth of wages.

  • Typo correction:

    If I have set foot in the local mall twice in the last five years I would be shocked.

  • "but even war just doesn't employ the number of people it used to."

    After the first day; dimunition of population, destruction of infrastructure and materiel and loss of mobile troops (and most of the troops themselves will return us to the good old days of pastoralism plagued by roving bands of warrior/shepherds and various forms of genetically mutated fauna. And the "Stewards" of nature will be dealing with some mutations of their own, also, too.

    Isn't it wonderdful that the natural world, hubris and ML Burnin'stoopit converge to have such a beneficial "levelling" effect?

    I thank Trumpligula.

  • Isn't this all what Hilary and Bernie wanted to do? (push vocational education, college, trade school). Instead of bombs, wars, and tax cuts for the rich and screwing the poor the government should be investing in training those who have been "left behind". Here are a few ways that this could happen easily.
    1. Take that 30-80 billion dollars that the Liar-in-Chief wants to spend on a stupid wall and open some trade schools in Appalachia and the coal regions, in places like Chicago and middle America.
    2. Trump could pay his own way to Mar a largo and give the 3 million per weekend he has been spending to those same schools. 3. give tax credits to businesses that locate in these depressed areas rather than giving more breaks to the rich who do nothing but fill their own pockets (ie: The Trump family)
    4, Have the Trump family move their businesses to the US instead of Asia and South America. Maybe he could open a factory in the Midwest. Instead of Ivanka selling high priced couture clothing perhaps she could create a line of affordable clothing for the middle american and produce it in middle America offering a decent wage to those that work for her. and the "boys" could take the funds they use for killing animals and donate it to schools and pay their own way when traveling instead of ripping off the American public. That would probably save millions.

    When these schools open The first class they should require is "stop feeling sorry for yourself".

    As far as no jobs and spending money on heroin etc. Well if you don't have money for food why are you spending it on drugs. I don't get it see above "stop feeling…….

  • The propaganda of those who feel FDR isn't dead enough have probably insured that nothing constructive will be done, so tech will deliver a dark singularity and the United States will become a cautionary tale, the Mordor of the future.

  • Two problems I'm seeing with the analysis herein.

    1. Sears/K-Mart isn't dying because of Amazon, et. al. but because the middle band of consumers is getting hollowed out. While the various e-commerce sites are helping the process, they aren't the main driver. Consider that the low-end (e.g. walmart) is thriving as more people fall down the SES ladder. Those that still can afford middle retail are getting more insecure by the day and seeking bargains for everything.

    2. We don't have a skills gap. Seriously, we don't. What we have is a lot of companies either trying to suppress wages or accustomed to cheap foreign labor that refuse to pay enough to attract americans. If we had a genuine shortage of skilled labor wages would be rising to compete for them, but they're not. If we start sending more people to trade schools (in which I include most IT) it will just help the employers do more of the same.

    It all comes down to jobs.

  • I find myself drifting back to Vonnegut's first (and largely ignored, because it's mediocre by his standards) novel, PLAYER PIANO, a dystopia in which automation has replaced almost the entirety of the private workforce. To avoid the workers' revolution that would inevitably follow, the government (aided by the GE-like corporation behind it all) has created a national make-work program–basically perpetual infrastructure repair, needed or not–that keeps the 99-percenters employed JUST enough to be able to afford all the automatic gizmos that make their bleak, trifling lives convenient.

    This bleak, hopeless vision is all the more depressing when you consider that it's WAY too progressive for today's America; we really would rather have Immortan Joe than anything that smacks of socialism.

  • Bring back the Civilian Conservation Corp. The govt could keep millions employed for years repairing our infrastructure, which side benefit, needs to be done anyway (really, really glad I left Atlanta years ago now). Plus that would be millions of people learning trade jobs you hear so much about: Masonry, carpentry, welding, excavation, plumbing, etc.

    Also, the campgrounds and wilderness improvements they did in the 30's are starting to wear out, and the private sector sure isn't going to finance a log berm to fight erosion anytime soon.

  • This Guy Again says:

    An older article from Bloomberg on how Eddie Lampert's Ayn Rand-influenced management style has done nothing to help Sears dig itself out of the hole.

  • The internet killing brick and mortar stores is the leading edge of robots killing the vast majority of the jobs humans do…NPR Marketplace even has a segment these days on "Robot-proof jobs" and, I mean, sure some jobs are robot-proof for years yet, but we can't all be chasing those same limited career choices and also all expect to get jobs.

  • Two sectors of the economy thriving right now are finance and entertainment. While pushing money and contracts around for vigorish doesn’t do anything productive (actually, it’s destructive), various entertainment industries (sports, music, television and film, etc.) are precisely where people go with their idle time (pun intended). Only problem is that one must be exceptional and/or lucky to make a living in the entertainment industries, which obviously doesn’t scale to the masses. The fortunate few are typically (though not uniformly) like CEOs: paid all out of proportion to the work performed.

  • I'll be Frank says:

    Go look at the history of the most common job by year for the U.S. and whatever job was most common in a year barely exists 20 years later. That's why I know that 20 years from now there won't hardly be any truck drivers.

  • "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."" Isaac Asimov; Newsweek; Jan. 21, 1980. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B20UEbytaFCJOUhjWlpQU3hqNjQ

    Those that bought into the anti-intellectualism now wonder why they're being displaced as our economy moves towards a knowledge economy that produces a greater number of goods and services requiring domain knowledge beyond a high-school diploma, and sometimes, a bachelor's degree.

    But it's also in the knowledge elite's interest to solve the problem lest they or the knowledge economy end up like certain French aristocrats in the Revolution. The GOP is already seeing the angry mob they've stoked canabalize their own.

  • We live in a country where a serial sex perv with a tv show can get a 25 mil payout to quit his job, and the elderly retired school teacher that lives next door to me can't afford the medicine that keeps her alive. Our whole culture and economy is a giant money funnel turned upside down, defying gravity and shooting wealth to the tiny top.

  • Disgusted –

    In response to your comment "Well if you don't have money for food why are you spending it on drugs." – the reason is that the drugs are typically cheaper and do the same thing as food – ie reduce the hunger pains. Its hellofva lot cheaper to buy a hit of heroin where you'll be stoned out of your mind for 3 – 4 days than try to buy enough food to stop the pain during the same time frame.

  • @ Ed
    Somewhere in this talk and sentiment about the economic effects of the declining big box stores there needs to be an accompanying awareness of the historically unprecedented amount of clutter and unwanted junk that is stuffed into our storage facilities and garages. The way we roll is to overproduce stuff we really don't need, (cue the advertising agencies to manufacture the need) so that people can buy that stuff to make themselves "happy". Then, we store that stuff that no longer makes us happy on the off chance that it may have some future value or might make us happy in the future.

    When you look to the poor countries in the southern hemisphere that the 'civilizations' of the northern hemisphere have plundered for resources and slave labor for centuries, it's hard to rouse much sympathy for our "long tail" dilemma. Just deserts.

    …@ TakomaMark

    The only way robot-proof jobs will thrive is if non-robotically produced products are demanded in the market place. My overpriced bike is labelled "Handmade in the USA", but it was the last year that model was made in the USA. Subsequent equivalent models were produced in Asia but sold for approximately the same price (or more) in the US market. "Made in the USA" did not garner enough consumer loyalty to compete with profit loss (not price) . There has to be a superior physical or aesthetic benefit in a product that can't be produced by a machine for it to be valued.

  • There are two problems with every department store now being Macy's. First, we have Sovietized our economic system. All our department stores are the same, so we've lost a source of innovative, localized retailing. If you want something imaginative you have to go to a boutique or a website. We used to joke about the Russians and their imaginatively named stores, like Bread Bakery #415. Now, the joke is on us.

    The second problem is that taking over every other department store does bad things to the books since most of those chains cost more than their liquidation value. The surviving chains are carrying a huge "good will" item representing that difference. This is no problem when the business is growing, but when the downturn hits they have to write off this good will. Even if the business is operating in the black, its finances will be in the red. (This is what hit the big newspaper chains starting maybe 10 years ago.)

    You're absolutely right that we are seeing the end of the McJob. There is no place lower to go above the half world of off the books work and petty crime. One reason the US was so good at assimilating immigrants is that we could crank out shit jobs like nobody else. Now that these jobs are vanishing as a result of cultural change and increased efficiency, we will be forced to face the problem. We're moving back to 19th century England with a small upper crust, a modest middle class and a huge pool of barely fed workers drifting in and out of poorly paid jobs or living at the margins.

    A guaranteed income, as in Alaska, or a strong safety net, as in northern Europe, would help, but people need work. Even very wealthy people create pretend jobs for themselves. We haven't tried expanding the public sector for political reasons, though it has been growing in the west, at least, since the Renaissance. In fact, much of the rise of the west involved increased government spending and mechanisms for distributing the loot.

  • We visited our local mall recently (ironically, for the Macy's closing sale) – there are still two 'anchor' stores there (Belk and Penneys, but I'm not betting the latter will last much longer) – Sears went ages ago and just wandering around there were at least half a dozen empty stores, and this despite having an upgraded cinema complex attached to it. What used to be Sears is now part of Liberty University's ever expanding campus. In our small town, Rite-Aid built a brand new store, closed it six months later, and that allowed CVS to move to a more logical location (ie one with a drive-thru) and the local community college now has a satellite facility next to the grocery store. Rite-Aid also built a new store half an hour away, closed it down so we now have perhaps one of the few Goodwills with a drive-thru :)

  • I'd like to hear more on this from the faction that thinks people working hard at service jobs don't deserve a living wage. People who would usher in the United States of India. It defies reason.

  • "We are about to confront something that it is clear American politics is not capable of confronting"

    I feel this point has received too little attention. Fascism has its best chance of taking root when the democratic state cannot confront an existential economic threat.

  • Good news though; in a few years Uber will have perfected the self driving taxi and put all those drivers out of work. So now we don't have to worry about everyone becoming decently paid taxi drivers anymore.

    Remember the late 90s when people were talking about how the Internet will open up so much economic activity that there will be a labor shortage?

  • A guaranteed income, as in Alaska

    alas, Kaleberg, that's so last year… Alaska's Permanent Fund was limited to $1000 last year, thereby sticking every man, woman, & child with about a $1400 ad hoc tax. This year it will be chopped at $1250, IIRC. Plus an income tax is under discussion.

    My dividend maybe covers most of my annual diesel heating fuel bill, but only if I take some of the load off the boiler with my pellet stove. Otherwise the fuel doesn't last through the 5 months of serious winter when the delivery truck is unable to get up my bobsled run of an iced-over driveway.

    Thank you, Republicans. No, wait, of course I mean GO TO BLAZES IN A FLAMING SHIT WAGON.

  • Like Alex above, I need to touch and try on items of clothing. I have ordered online before, and it has always had to go back.

    All of my left shoes need a 3/4" inch lift added to the sole, which costs an additional $70, and can't be done to just any pair of shoes, so I like to try them on as well, before I blow money on something that I can't use.

    Anyway, things are looking pretty dim right now for the nation and the world.

  • @Mo:

    You're up there in RIL* MurKKKa with Saint Sara of the Wasillabillies? You run short of stuff, just go bushwhack one of the neighbors and take THEIR stuff–it'll put you a leg up on the rest of down here in the lower 48 for when the food riots start.

  • I still tend to shop for some items where I can evaluate the merchandise in person, and if need be, try it on. But the Internet has made running down small stuff so much more efficient than driving around for it.

    Guaranteed income is just too bizarre an economic structure for me to conceive how it would work. Guaranteed employment may have a better chance at implementation, with government helping business with personnel training and job placement in the private sector. Possibly add an "employee" tax break to business tax returns – like families now have for children – to get the private sector to value workers more.

    One thing's for sure, making new jobs is getting a lot harder real fast as Ed has pointed out. I've read enough articles about technology leaders buying escape properties outside the U.S. to believe that the next wave of job automation is going to be crushing.

  • I sent this to my kids who are in high school just in case they think they have the remotest shot at a life as good or better than mine…or my parents'…without a meaningful college degree.

  • I absolutely hate ordering online; it once took Amazon 3 years to fulfill a book order that I ended up buying at the local mall about a month into the wait. I've had other problems with them, too–the "just in time" warehouse system is utter crap if you're not ordering exactly what everyone else is ordering.

    Then there's the whole "will it fit?" situation everyone else has talked about. I am no hard-to-fit size in clothing and shoes, and yet I've been bitterly disappointed with the fit and finish anytime I've ordered online. It makes so much more sense for me to take 3 sizes of jeans (or dresses, or shirts, etc.) into the dressing room with me to find out what random sizing fits me at any particular time (I've got jeans in every size from 2 – 10 that all fit me identically, and shoes sized 6 – 8), then leave with my purchase, than to order something online, have to track it down, contact the company when the item inevitably doesn't show, get a replacement, try it on…and hate it. Additionally, a lot of online companies are now using an Uber-type delivery system with the lowest bidder winning the delivery (which explains how it once took five weeks for me to get a book I ordered that was shipped from a warehouse 30 miles away).

    Not that the malls are Nirvana; awhile back all the major department stores decided what adult women *really, really wanted* was see-through crop-top blouses and low-cut, elephant-legged bellbottoms. The fit lately assumes that all women have huge arms that attach at the hipbones. It's hard enough when you can try on the clothes; ordering online is impossible.

  • I agree that there are just far too many malls for the population, and also that people who are barely holding their heads above water are not going to be buying the endless streams of consumer goods being imported from China. In the 1970s and 1980s and even through the 1990s, there was enough of a middle class with enough free time to go shopping for entertainment.

  • democommie – you're forgetting, there are maybe 7.9 guns for every man, woman, & child in Alaska. Moi, am limited to a Winchester 12 gauge and a Remington 30.06, so I'd def be outgunned by neighbor's assault rifles. The kid pirated the handgun, I haven't seen it in awhile.

  • Skepticalist says:

    Not to worry about your dying local mall. Soon it will consist of a lovely self-storage business, a shiny fitness center, and a place where kids can use a trampoline. With luck they'll be able to play miniature golf while moms drink $7 Pepsi at Dipsons and perhaps munch on something that resembles pizza. This depends on being able to navigate the cratered parking lot of course.

  • LOL, Skepticalist, you've obviously been to my local mall!!

    The mall that's least annoying to get to was a shining jewel when it opened in the 1980s. The kind of place you'd make yourself presentable to go to. The kind of place where I could find both casual and career clothes, and there were climbing things for the kids to expend energy on. You could buy a book, a CD, a DVD, and a birthday card for your aunt. You could go watch a movie, and buy an outfit, then have a nice dinner at one of a variety of places from fast food to sit-down chain family restaurants.

    Then a super-duper "outlet" mall opened just 4 miles away. Featuring stores you simply can't find elsewhere (that was sarcasm), including Payless Shoes, Hallmark, all the fast food chains, and not one, but SIX chain "teenager costume jewelry" places. Then they put a casino in the mall, and that was it–everyone's disposible income went to that mall instead.

    Jezebel had an article about this: http://jezebel.com/bebe-to-close-all-stores-by-the-end-of-may-2017-1794582775. For those not familiar, BeBe was one of a string of cheaply-made, tacky clothing that appealed to tweens.

  • Here in Phoenix the only malls that still have nearly 100% occupancy are the upscale ones with stores like Nieman Marcus (aka Needless Markup), Crate & Barrel and lululemon. Otherwise there are the ubiquitous Walmarts, Targets, Ross Dress for Less stores.

  • The Palace Cat says:

    Hi GunStar! Hire me! I graduated last year from coding bootcamp and cannot land a job. At least in this corner of the rust belt companies prefer 3+ years of experience for their jr dev starter positions. There are pages and pages of postings for jobs for 3 or 5 years exp, but I can't get my foot in the door as a middle aged worker starting over (I left manufacturing sales). I am reasonably competent for my level and in a couple of years if I can get work in the field I'll be bomb-ass, but I need to get paid and get experience. One recruiter recommended I work unpaid for a year. In software development, not publishing or entertainment or one of the other abusive as a matter of course industries.

    I recently tried for a $12/hr position that required a college degree and a car, and didn't get it. TWELVE DOLLARS PER HOUR. A dependable car. A college freaking degree. People cannot live on these wages!

  • Jice:
    So let me get this straight. they don't make any money which make them sad so …. Then they use what little money they have to buy drugs, then complain that not only do they not have any money, now they have a drug problem that the government has to pay for to make them well. Now that they have a drug problem no one will hire them. Where in this equation is helping them get a better job, getting more money and making them happy. There is something missing here. I am not against drug rehab programs nor am I not for a working wage for everyone but somewhere along the line people have to be accountable. I have never been a fan of the "poor me" attitude. The government can't do everything for every person. I have worked my butt off for years sometimes with 2 jobs just to put food on the table. Additionally at one point I had to move to another state, leaving my family behind, just so that I could provide for myself. It was hard, it was sad, but I made the best out of it so that I could be a productive member of society. I did not expect the government to make my life better. I did it myself and I am proud of myself. I did not use drugs when I was sad I used that money to improve my life.

  • They don't make any money which make them sad so … Then they use what little money they have to buy drugs

    You lost me right from the get-go. That's a convenient one-two assertion not evidenced by the actual lives of the poor, homeless, and out of work.

    The government can't do everything for every person.
    Who ever said it has to? Cute try at a straw man, tho.

  • @disgusted:

    Without getting too wound up about it, I'll say this.

    Dependency is a motherfucker. Some folks are much more likely to fall into that shitspiral of binge-purge-binge-detox-binge-jail then others. I used to get drunk most days. I stopped doing that in 1982. So, 35 years of sobriety–and I still drink, just a little more sensible. My dad and two of my siblings were absolutely lost after a few drinks. They weren't any worse as persons and they were all talented.

    So, I don't buy the notion that NOBODY can escape the nefarious trap of drugs (especially the idiots who seem to be HAPPY to be do the stuff) but it's a pretty complicated equation that I don't think is solvable without draconian policies like those of Mao when he took over all of China*.


    I did say, "Bushwhack". It was tongue in cheek, but Alaska is one of those places where I would seriously consider not going to any bars that looked the least bit chancy. I've had several people want to come for a little piece of me in the last few years and if they had been packing heat it might not have ended well for any of us. In upstate NY the chances of someone carrying a concealed weapon are reduced by the hefty prison sentences that might be meted out for simply HAVING one in a bar, never mind brandishing. It happens but not that often.

    * And I'm pretty sure that the problem still exists in China, just in different ways.

  • @PalaceCat; have you looked into tutoring kids in software development? You might want to look into the various tutor-for-pay groups (the small private ones as well as the big ones like Kumon). For that matter, you might want to contact local high schools that have computer science programs, introduce yourself as a recent college grad with current skills, and ask how you can offer your servcies–particularly as a substitute teacher in computer science classes. Lower grades might have Robotics clubs where they program those simple Lego computers–do you know any children you could ask? If you could land one of those gigs, you could add to your resume something like, "Taught children principles of coding including best practices in Language A, B, Whatever." For that matter, you could probably advertise your services as a tutor at community colleges, as well. Lots of adults students needing help in computer science classes. It'd keep your skills current and give you something to put on your resume.

  • Re: drug use; I have a hard time believing someone with a $300/day heroin habit would rather have bought groceries instead of drugs, but just can't afford it.

  • @Skeptalist; my used-to-be-shining-jewel mall now has a fitness center and an indoor miniature golf place. It's like you're in my computer, man!

    @PalaceCat; also, man, I'm sorry about the job situation. It makes me furious when the boss's 19-year-old kid gets hired as a 'software developer' making $50k when they can't even spell HTML. <–that's an actual example of one of my "co-workers".

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    Here in Oakland California, my husband is building his small business. We don't buy big box crap; we're more of a Grocery Outlet family. Our sons are in public schools. I travel around town on the bus. What does this tell me?

    Our local economy is strong enough to support the small businesses buying my husband's products. We have a Grocery Outlet as an alternative to Walmart. Our schools are adequate, given enough parental attention. We actually *have* a functioning public transit system. There are many parts of this country in which none of that is happening. Were we living there, our standard of living would be far lower. Oh, and there's the interracial gay marriage thing. In short, not everyone has access to the social support that makes my life as comfortable as it is – and I know it.

    disgusted, have you met Carrstone? Something tells me that the two of you would get along famously.

  • A few people have mentioned the guaranteed annual income solution, and one who's said he doesn't see how it could work.

    You have a society with (automation producing) more wealth than jobs. You can

    a) Funnel all the extra wealth to the owners of the automation and their shareholders, financiers, etc. Our current situation.

    b) Have a tax structure that keeps the money circulating around the water wheel of the economy. It provides the money to give everyone a minimum income.

    The systems tested in Canada, England, and Finland that I know of are set up to provide either just some money or the equivalent of a poverty-level wage. What's been found is that when people don't worry about starving, they start businesses, can afford to find good jobs that make better use of their skills, spend time on education, spend time on their children.

    The value-added is huge, besides the fact that there are more people to buy what automation produces.

    The stumbling block, of course, is that people can't stand to see other people getting "free money." (Which is maybe what you meant by not being able to see how it could work?) That's certainly enough to prevent it from actually happening in the US.

    We'd rather bankrupt the country than share. Makes perfect sense.

  • There was a time (I assume) when the clan chieftain made certain of two things.

    A.) He got the best of whatever was coming in from the hunt or harvest. He got priority in making genetic copies of himself and he got a huge sendoff–all of these things being dependent upon his doing a good job of leading, protecting and providing for his peeps.

    B.) Everybody got some of whatever was coming in from the hunt or harvest; had some shot at making copies and got buried or otherwise honored at death instead of being left for the buzzards and other scavengers.

    Today? Our leaders don't lead, they COMMAND others to do things; they don't share and they don't give a rat's ass about their peeps.

    There could be millions of jobs for people doing other than makework. It only takes the rest of us giving enough of a fuck to start electing genuinely representational people to positions of authority.

    @ Katydid:

    Your playdate is back, down at the "Cult of Mediocrity" thread.

  • Sears and Kmart have both been on death's door for more than 10+ years, retail isn't dying because of the internet, it's dying because of a drop in demand and a tremendous oversupply of retailers. When I worked for Large Chain Drug Store that went through rapid expansion, over half of the locations in any given market didn't break even, but existed to reduce the costs on the other locations, but the chain was held together by the extremely profitable locations/markets. Why did the company overextend? Because they counted on the growth of Rx to stay at the rate that they did in the 90s and early 2000s, which they haven't and they also failed to realize that the FTC would allow the PBMs (the ones who set the rates that drug stores get for filling RXs that are paid for by insurance) to basically form a monopoly, reducing the reimbursement rates that go to the pharmacies. Most of the money in a pharmacy is made when "big" new drugs go generic, which their haven't been "big" ones released anymore (no Lipitor or Prilosec or allergy meds or prozac). The other problem in the drug store industry is the fact that Walmart and grocery chains use RX as loss leader to get people in the door.

    Retail chains die slow deaths, and the writing was on the wall years ago for the malls as the strip malls and outlet malls took over. I live in Harrisburg PA, and I know that the expansion of the big mall in King Of Prussia, PA which is about an hour and half away has hurt our local malls. Why go to a smaller, crappy mall and not get what you want, instead spend the day at the KOP mall and drive home happy. Same with outlet malls, they are shopping destinations. There was one on the north side of the Cincy suburbs which was close to Dayton, and it helped to hollow out the Dayton Mall.

    The lack of demand can be helped by a rise in wages and employment, but it's more important to make the quarter and meet "expectations" at the Wall Street level than it is to invest in a workforce. The financial industry's explosion in the 80s created these problems, when it's more profitable to make money by moving numbers on a ticker instead of viewing the market as an engine for companies to acquire capital to function.

  • Sorry to burst your bubble guys, but by the time you retrain everyone into dev/IT, the dev/IT jobs will be gone too. Automation has been making dev work easier and more accessible to the barely-educated MBA dirtbag as well as reducing the overall number of bodies required to push out lines of code. The tech bubble may be further away than say the disappearance of trucking jobs, but it'll come for us eventually.

    It's revolution or bust.

  • @quixote: Guaranteed employment will provide a guaranteed income – while also ensuring that everyone who gets an income participates in growing the wealth that makes an economy in the first place. I'm not saying that wages and benefits don't need to be upgraded from our current lows, but I believe they still must be earned somehow… perhaps I'm old-fashioned in that regard. Some of the positive behaviors you cite in your example cases may actually occur under a guaranteed-income-only scenario, but knowing the human race, I remain unconvinced.

    On the other hand, if economic production continues to separate itself from the human race entirely, then all bets are off. At that point, the system won't need us at all – with or without an income.

  • The future you described reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Player Piano. In this novel, mechanization and robotics have taken most of the jobs away. The only normally employed people have advanced degrees in engineering while the rest are forced to serve on government construction crews or in the military. A great number of people are not employed and living on the dole. Vonnegut saw a pretty bleak future.

  • "@quixote: Guaranteed employment will provide a guaranteed income – while also ensuring that everyone who gets an income participates in growing the wealth that makes an economy in the first place."


    There's a great new business opening just down the street from me. Is it a pizza parlor, a hair/nails place, coffee shop? Most of the "jobs" people have these days are make work!
    I'd really like to see somebody list some of those "guaranteed jobs" the government should provide.

    Ya oughta read about what the road workers thought during the Great Depression when they walked out to do their jobs. Walking past machines that could have done the same jobs more easily.

    I just don't understand why it's so important for people to be told what to do every day. That's what jobs are. People need things to do but they really don't have to be "managed" or "directed."

  • As I've said before, China apparently has a near 100% work policy. The only beggars one ever sees (and those rarely) have severe disabilities. (The Chinese are not keen to admit or deal with anything seen as less than perfection – I have read that babies born with birth defects are sent to an orphanage, but I can't get anyone here to discuss such things. I do know firsthand that parents would rather be told their little darling is just lazy than be told that the kid has (an obvious) learning disability. (One father of such a son told us "I beat him and beat him, but he never works harder." Just leaving that here.) One of the first things one learns in education over here is what a waste of time it is to try and discuss this with Chinese staff or parents!) Every apartment complex, office building, school, government office has a fence with a guard shack wherein sits a guy – always a guy – who does essentially nothing all day. I've been told a lot of them sip bijou (Chinese liquor – tastes like turpentine, gives a bitch of a hangover, INCREDIBLY cheap!) all day. I'm sure I would too.

    In addition millions of Chinese people spend their days sweeping up every leaf that falls, all day long. Add to that the constant building, the massive number of unnecessary government jobs (I know this because I've talked to several people who have or do actual work for people who have such jobs) and you keep the people full enough to keep them from overthrowing the government.

    Gotta tell you….our system of government doesn't look very good to the average Chinese person right now.

    (Sorry for all the parentheticals…it's just how my mind works.)

  • "In the future every factory will only have one man and a dog. The dog is there to keep the man from touching the machinery. The man is there to feed the dog."

    Don't know who said this. Remember reading it somewhere.

  • "Vonnegut saw a pretty bleak future."

    Not nearly as bleak as it will be when the food supply and potable water are insufficient. Roasted Saddle of Patrician will be consumed with as much gusto as White Trash Hash.

    @ April:

    (Yes), (mine,too) (also)!

  • Thanks Wim. You should talk more. I suspect you have intelligent things to say.

    DC – no idea what you're trying to say but love you as always.

  • @J Dryden

    thanks so much for mentioning Player Piano. Every time this topic comes up, I try to reference that story, but couldn't remember where it came from. I had a vague memory that it was a short story by Kilgore Trout, and thus I never found it.

  • I love the Warren Bennis quote!

    We could go the other way and quote the movie Screamers, loosely based on the Phillip K. dick story the Second Variety:

    Nobody's been down there (to the factory producing the sentient deathbots) since the first bastard pressed the button and ran like hell.

  • The Bennis quote is also a joke I heard decades ago about the airplane cockpit of the future. Pilot and dog. Pilot programs autopilot and feeds dog, dog keeps pilot from touching the controls. This was late '80's, don't know when the Bennis quote was from.

  • First off, "palabrum" — not a word. Perhaps "palaver"? Or "palliator"?

    Now that the pedantry is out of the way: Of course retail is dead. The major expenses in retail are square footage and labor. Warehouse operations are far more efficient with each: They cram way more crap into the same space and drive their employees much harder. There's no way for retail to win.

    As far as what next for the laid-off, low-skill retail workers: it's gotta be jobs that can't be outsourced or automated away. Health care is the most obvious. There will be tens of millions of oldsters in the coming decades needing someone to clean their butts and make sure they don't fall and break a hip. Incidentally, this is the government make-work program everyone here has been talking about, since these service workers will more often than not be employed as a result of Medicaid. Difference is, it will be a make-work program by accident, not design.

  • Jestbill said: "Most of the "jobs" people have these days are make work!"

    Yes, that is true, and I won't argue that. We've fallen a long ways. Government reforms in the tax and incentive realm are needed both to bring businesses back to this country, AND get them to locate to areas that need an economy (as in: no, we can't move all of West VA to San Francisco).

    Jestbill said: "I'd really like to see somebody list some of those "guaranteed jobs" the government should provide."

    I don't recommend that the government provide all the jobs; I don't believe that's the best way. But they could provide more training, placement help, and hiring subsidies than they do now. In that way people might get matched up to more useful/interesting/better-paying work. An income could be provided to people in training so that they can actually focus on the training. Etc…

    Jestbill said: "I just don't understand why it's so important for people to be told what to do every day."

    You don't have to be told what to do; you can make your own line of work and be your own boss. But I really don't think we're going to get paid just to hang out and suck oxygen, you know? :-)

    I believe in government intervention in the economy to keep things fair for everyone – workers included. But I also believe the private sector is why we're here and a lot of other countries aren't. Like Ed says: what do you do when the last of your private sector goes down the drain? – because the government does not make wealth. It's a question of balance between the amount of government intervention in the economy (democrats) and the amount of economic freedom (republicans); neither extreme works well in my opinion. In the most successful national economies government and industry have teamed up, while here we've become combatants.

    PS: The dog/man/factory joke is a good one.

  • What KHall says, and we will always have dollar stores and their ilk to provide employment. Not everyone can afford to shop on the internet–and the numbers of those who can't afford to shop the internet will go up as things get worse.

  • @mothra; the dollar store in my spouse's hometown closed because they couldn't make a profit. When your town's population can't support a dollar store, you know things are bad.

  • @Democommie; thanks for the heads up. Isn't it the epitome of privilege when someone hears "My experience has been X" (particularly if hordes of people are saying the same thing) and the response is, "Well, it's not like that for ME, so obviously you're just making things up."

  • April, Demo, Major Kong, and the rest of you regulars are *the best*. I always enjoy reading your responses.

  • "There's a Vietnam vet with a cardboard sign
    Sitting there by the left turn line
    The flag on his wheelchair flapping in the breeze
    One leg missing and both hands free

    No one's paying much mind to him
    The VA budget's just stretched so thin
    And now there's more coming back from the Mideast war
    We can't make it here anymore

    That big ol' building was the textile mill
    It fed our kids and it paid our bills
    But they turned us out and they closed the doors
    'Cause we can't make it here anymore

    You see those pallets piled up on the loading dock
    They're just gonna sit there 'til they rot
    'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
    Just busted concrete and rusted tracks

    Empty storefronts around the square
    There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
    You don't come down here unless you're looking to score
    We can't make it here anymore

    The bar's still open but man it's slow
    The tip jar's light and the register's low
    The bartender don't have much to say
    The regular crowd gets thinner each day

    Some have maxed out all their credit cards
    Some are working two jobs and living in cars
    Minimum wage won't pay for a roof
    Won't pay for a drink; if you gotta have proof
    just try it yourself Mr. CEO
    See how far 5.15 an hour will go
    Take a part time job at one your stores
    Bet you can't make it here anymore

    And there's a high school girl with a bourgeois dream
    Just like the pictures in the magazine
    She found on the floor of the laundromat
    A woman with kids can forget all that

    If she comes up pregnant, what'll she do
    Forget the career and forget about school
    Can she live on faith, live on hope
    High on Jesus or hooked on dope
    When it's way too late to just say no
    You can't make it here anymore

    Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
    Just like the ones we made before
    'Cept this one came from Singapore
    I guess we can't make it here anymore

    Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
    Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
    Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
    No, I hate the men sent the jobs away

    I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
    All lily white and squeaky clean
    They've never known want, they'll never know need
    Their shit don't stink and their kids won't bleed
    Their kids won't bleed in their damn little war
    And we can't make it here anymore

    Will work for food,
    Will die for oil
    Will kill for power and to us the spoils
    The billionaires get to pay less tax
    The working poor get to fall through the cracks
    Let 'em eat jellybeans, let 'em eat cake
    Let 'em eat shit, whatever it takes
    They can join the Air Force or join the Corps
    If they can't make it here anymore

    So that's how it is, that's what we got
    If the president wants to admit it or not
    You can read it in the paper, read it on the wall
    Hear it on the wind if you're listening at all
    Get out of that limo, look us in the eye
    Call us on the cell phone, tell us all why
    In Dayton Ohio or Portland Maine
    Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
    That's done closed down along with the school
    And the hospital and the swimming pool

    Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
    There's rats in the alley and trash in the street
    Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
    We can't make it here anymore"

    — James McMurtry, "We Can't Make it Here" from Childish Things, 2005

    (lyrics transcribed, not official, may have minor mistakes, sorry)

    2005. A decade later. More than a decade.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    The most forward-thinking retailers are trying to integrate internet-based sales into their brick-and-mortar operations. Unfortunately you have to be really big and well-capitalized, like Walmart or Target, to pull that off.

  • Gee,Scout, thanks tons! And Katy – you me too. DC – ah, yes, I see. Well, it was after my evening scotches.

  • The Pale Scot says:


    I picked up a certification for soldering from a government retraining program that exists simply to provide hands for the defense industry down here in central FL.

    Pay isn’t bad to start (for FL , if I was in NJ, no). as I pick up experience it gets better. Benefits are pretty good.

    Here’s the thing, about 80 to 90 % of my coworkers are immigrants. And we are doing classified jobs, so these “foreigners” aren’t questionable. Everyone I’ve talked to is a reader, they can read a page of specs and transfer that to the workbench. And able to work in teams discussing the specs and how to proceed, which I guarantee the locals, my neighbors, can’t.

    The blue collar simple assembly jobs don’t exist here anymore. And if they did they’d pay minimum. You need to able to read and comprehend on a level higher than Facebook to have a chance. Or be a great sales person, which I am but I just won’t do anymore because of the top down control that exists. People telling me how to make a sale by being an asshole, Nope.

  • @Quixote

    "The [UBI systems tested in Canada, England, and Finland]… What's been found is that when people don't worry about starving, they start businesses, can afford to find good jobs that make better use of their skills, spend time on education, spend time on their children."

    VERY well-put. Even Republicans obsessed with the Lazy Poors(TM) trope (which is most of them these days) could buy this if you present it as "removing the downside risk". As in, "Removing the downside risk will still leave people motivated to chase the upside potential; indeed, it will only encourage them".

  • @April: you got Scotch? You share maybe?

    @DC: keep us informed as to your new song!!!

    @Pale Scot; in the very-early 1990s (1990 – 1991?) I worked a job building computer systems in racks (now it can all be done in one computer). We needed miles and miles of cables and the company was paying anyone off the street to come in and fabricate cables for $10/hr, which in Northern Virginia was not exactly a living wage, but better than minimum wage (which was probably around $6/hr). I was making the princely sum of $12/hr, so you see the company considered cable-fabricating to be a skilled job. We got some truly amazing people and I used to eat my lunch with them just to hear what they had to say.

  • "People telling me how to make a sale by being an asshole, Nope."

    Especially when you realize that they're actually saying, "Make ME money by being an asshole.".

  • Katy – Sure. Come on over. Gots second bedroom as well. China is an interesting place to visit – you just don't want to live here.

  • Robert Walker-Smith says:

    Reilly – that makes me think of a more productive alternative to the pseudo inspirational 'what would you do if you knew you could not fail'.
    What would you attempt if you knew that failure would not mean poverty and misery?

  • A Different Nate says:


    I don't think that dog would hunt among most of the R crowd, whose bootstrap proselytism requires a hell as well as a heaven. It's not enough that the unworthy lazy don't get to enjoy the benefits of wealth; they must be forced to properly suffer for the sin of poverty.

  • terraformer says:

    Looks like we're moving quickly to a universal basic income, for people who want to work or otherwise can, but can't get a job.

  • Part of the point I was trying to make: A society makes X amount of wealth. The society has to make the choice whether to spread the wealth around to some extent or to let it all coagulate at the top. Automation just makes the choice more obvious.

    The other part of the point: We no longer need to guess what happens when people get basic incomes. There's not much point saying "I'm not convinced" when there's evidence. (You can object that there's something wrong with the evidence, but you do have to address it.) UBI has been tried, in some places for years, and there's actual data on how people react.

    A link on the topic which contains links to the original research: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/what-happens-when-the-poor-receive-a-stipend/ .

  • There's a diary in DKos today about the closing of the writer's local Radio Shack. The one not far from my house closed, too, but I hadn't been there in years so I was just mildly sad.

  • Northland in Southfield, MI, one of the very first giant suburban malls is completely closed and awaiting demolition. The very first K Mart opened in Garden City, MI, (just down the block from me) in 1964 and recently closed for good. I loved going to Northland as a kid because it wasn't enclosed and was more like a town with stores just like real towns used to be. I've been out of town traveling around for a few weeks and I can't believe how many closed malls I've seen while on the interstates.

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