Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Rise of Dollar Stores and the Death of the American Dream

The best indication that I can see of the impending death of the American Empire, and of the American Dream, is the rise of Dollar Stores through out America. When I flew back to Minnesota and visited my hometown that has all of 1,700 souls living in it----there, on the outskirts of town, was a brand new Dollar Store. Dollar stores are everywhere now. They are the fastest growing retail segment in the US. You can't escape them.

Of course, Dollar Stores sell cheap useless products made by cheap overseas labor and sold to a desperate consumer class that has ever dwindling resources and ever lower expectations of what makes for a good life. It's what happens when people still have a materialistic consumer hangover but are unable to indulge in the addiction due to a lack of money. It's like an alcoholic at the poverty stricken end of his disease, who buys generic mouthwash and guzzles it because that's the cheapest way to satiate his addiction.

You know things are bad when Dollar Stores have cut into Walmart's market share.

So is there any hope that we might someday, wake up from this nightmare and begin to do the work of creating the Good Society again? After all, both political parties have had their grubby hands on letting things slide to this point. Reagan began the inevitable decline with his emphasis on Defense (offense?) spending and the way he cut the upper tax bracket's taxes. Clinton came along and bought into the whole "Capitalism's rising tide raises all ships" logic and negotiated NAFTA, a move that doomed my hometown in Minnesota when its factory closed down and was shipped off to Mexico (and then China). The tide went out and the rich got richer and the poor? They ended up shopping at the Dollar Store. Bush II escalated the decline by cutting taxes again, even to the point where we had a couple years there where there was no inheritance tax whatsoever. Those couple years were a Trustfunder's wet dream.

The result of all these bad decisions is the rise of Dollar Stores and Second Hand Stores. Frugality is no longer hip; it's a necessity. The working class can't survive on their wages anymore. Somehow the ruling class in the US decided that jobs were mere hobbies, and as such, no longer needed to pay a living wage. It was assumed that people had other ways to survive: inheritances, multiple generations sharing one roof, two or three substandard jobs spiked together. The affluent and the hyper-educated did well; the rest couldn't eat cake. They got government commodities instead.

We will know that America is on the mend when these awful Dollar Stores start shuttering their doors. How to make that happen? Oh, it's really quite simple. We need to raise taxes on the rich. And then we need to invest that money in the public good, once again. We need tariffs. We need to create a new energy and food system in this country. We need to change corporations charters such that they are expected to work for the public good. We need schools that educate our kids to new heights. We need to guarantee a job to every American. We need to raise wages.

But more than anything, we need to end this belief that our lives are only meant for our own private gain. Marx had the idea that economic systems change personalities. Hence he had the concept of the new Socialist Man (and woman). I think that's worth thinking about: how economic systems create personality traits. If you want confirmation of how economic systems create despair amongst the poor, just spend sometime watching the hordes shop at a Dollar Store. It'll drive you to start thinking about ways to create a Revolutionary Change. And soon.

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