Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Short Time or Long Time?

The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown shopping districts across the country.

So starts the lede of a NY Times story today.

Eight retail chains with lots of stores in malls and shopping centers all over the country, including Levitz furniture and Sharper Image, have gone bankrupt in recent months. Several other chains are on the verge, such as Linens 'n Things. And chains which are avoiding bankruptcy are shutting down stores.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in those goods are proving vulnerable.

Malls and shopping centers nationwide are destined to be half occupied, like the suburbs where foreclosed homes now litter the landscape like ready-made ruins. As long-term economic depression sets in, the decline of a formerly great nation, which in its day was an irresistably powerful industrial giant, is unavoidably obvious.

Meanwhile, Youngstown, Ohio, the formerly-great steelmaking town I grew up in has seen its population shrink by more than half over the past 40 years, leaving behind huge swaths of empty homes, streets and neighborhoods.

Now, in a radical move, the city - which has suffered since the steel industry left town and jobs dried up - is bulldozing abandoned buildings, tearing up blighted streets and converting entire blocks into open green spaces. More than 1,000 structures have been demolished so far.

Grass now grows in the hulks of the old steel mills down by the river in Youngstown, and birds nest in what's left of the eaves. I remember when those mills lit up the sky every night with sparks and sheets of flame. I saw parades of orange, flaming steel ingots marched out of those plants on flatcars. So I've seen that archaeological ruin when it was in its heyday, all lit up like a torch. There was the country's strength.

I've been alive a long time to have seen all that, or have I? Or is it more the case that the United States went down real fast? Maybe sixty years is not such a very long time.

The advantage I see in the decline of the United States is that we don't have to go to Europe to see ruins any more. Also, I would expect the recession to help solve our problem with illegal immigration. It also might, maybe mean that from now on, there will be no more money for stupid and expensive foreign adventures in places like Vietnam and Iraq. We can hope.

So there are some advantages to decline, eclipse, and loss of power. The revolution is definitely inevitable.

1 comment:

Joe said...

The Ponzi scheme is unraveling.