Monday, January 19, 2015

Let’s Hear it for the Dollar Store

The other day I bought some picture frames as part of an on-going picture-hanging exercise caused by a move that, while it seems to have taken place just yesterday, actually already goes back almost seven months. The cost of frames astonished me. I began looking at arts and crafts stores like Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics; then, needing smaller frames, I thought I’d find them at CVS. Find them I did, but the cost of these frames was not noticeably lower at the drug store than at the art stores. Then an inspiration came. One of my routes to one of the Krogers we now frequent takes me by a Dollar Store—or, more formally, a Dollar Tree. There I went.

There I went but—that having been a rather grey sort of day—I was quite convinced that Dollar wouldn’t have any frames. Imagine my surprise when I found a whole rack of them. Moreover, there was actually a yellow sign above them with the word Frames on it. I walked out of there a short while later with ten frames of various sizes. These frames, by the way, were of the same quality, decorative variety, and technical features as those in other stores where, typically, they were priced at multiples of six to twelve of the price I paid here.

I noticed while in there that the clientele had a large admixture of foreigners, immigrants, and other newcomers to the Land of Plenty. One of them was a big man in middle years who had no English at all. I saw him questioning another man about the whereabouts of—well, he was making shaving motions with his hands. The man he was consulting didn’t know how to deal with the problem and told him to go up front to ask, which that man did not exactly understand. The foreigner, incidentally, had been at the entrance to the store when I went in, hesitating there. Was he building up the courage to enter and encounter American Consumerism for the first time ever? Anyway, I resolved to help the gentleman as soon as I’d picked my last frame. As I headed out, one of the store clerks was coming down the aisle. I asked here where shaving gear was stowed. “You too?” she asked. Evidently she had been told about the problem by someone else and was coming to help my foreign gentleman. All was well. He’d have his razor and his razor blades in just a minute for a mere $1.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Family Analogy

Herewith something I'd published on Ghulf Genes yesterday. It fits this blog too...

The sophisticated sector of our society, e.g., the media, don’t much like simplistic analogies. Like, for instance, the notion that our smallest collective, the family, may be like our greatest, the nation. Yet this morning such an analogy arose in my mind. The occasion was a headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Gas Savings Not Spent Yet.” The essence here is that despite good numbers on December retail spending from private associations, national numbers from the Commerce Department indicate 0.9 percent decline in retail and food services spending as compared to November spending. And this despite a huge drop in gasoline costs?

The key word in the headline is that word Yet. The sophisticated understanding of people is based on an artificial notion of pure economic rationality. When people have extra money, they will spend it. If they don’t now, soon they will. Nothing else matters except having money or not having it. There is no future or social dimension present at all.

But if we use a “simplistic analogy,” our economic life today is comparable to the life of a family where mom and dad are at each others’ throats and hellzapoppin. A sign of that is a story on the next page: “House Votes to Block Immigration Policy,” just a day after a frosty meeting between the President and the Congressional leadership to discuss cooperation.

In a family in uproar, the children won’t be jolly. Consumer confidence is based on many things, not least the bigger atmosphere of the social whole. And there we have Mom determined to undermine Dad and vice versa. It’s barely safe to play, with half a mind, behind the couch, while in the kitchen things are heard to break on the tiled floor.

It Took a While

In the earlier version of LaMarotte I’d posted multiple times on my problems with Radio Shack. Unfortunately that earlier version is no longer up. In any case, the slow decline of this once very competent retailer has been taking decades; presumably dissatisfied customers like me have numbered in the multiple hundreds of thousands. What is amazing about current news, stating that Radio Shack is preparing to go into bankruptcy as early as February, is how long it has taken.

Corporate collectives have life times not that much longer than humans. Radio Shack saw its beginnings in 1921, so it is 94 now. It will presumably live on, after bankruptcy, for a while anyway until, probably eaten by another one, it will gradually disappear.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Employment Update: December 2014

Another year has passed and therefore we have complete numbers for 2014 issued today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (link).

I’ve tracked these data on a monthly basis (with two or three skips only) since February 2010. The series, from March 2011 forward, can be found on this version of LaMarotte. My purpose, when I first began, was to see how long it would take the U.S. economy to recover the total jobs lost in 2008 and 2009, the Great Recession, 8.7 million jobs. Well, it took four full years (2010-2013) and five months to recover the lost jobs. After that, from June through the present, the economy has been recovering the jobs lost due to an absence of actual job growth since 2008, a total of 6.6 million jobs. As of December of 2014, we have recovered 22.1 percent of those jobs as well, suggesting that “normal,” meaning status quo ante, will be reached some time in 2015—unless another recession sets in this year.

Now for the December 2014—and the year 2014—results. In December we gained 252,000 new jobs, a healthy number. November had the largest gain in 2015, 353,000 jobs. For the year as a whole, we gained a total of 2.961 million jobs, the best performance since 2010. Graphics by month and by year follow:

In this report, annual figures all show actual (rather than projected) data. The 2014 total, however, may be (and most likely will be) revised by BLS in February. Given current trends, the revision may very well be upward.

As we wave good-bye to 2014, the U.S. economy is acting robust and the dollar is strong. Gas prices are at their lowest in a very long time. By contrast, a sense of crisis still wafts over Europe. China’s growth has softened. Japan is still in its now decades-long slump—perhaps showing what the future holds for the global economy. We shall see. My own view is that there must surely be a Third Way—something other than frenetic growth on the upside and abysmall slumps on the other. 2015 may show us which way things will be trending.