Guest Post: Are You Seeing What I'm Seeing?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform

Are You Seeing What I'm Seeing?

Is it just me, or are the signs of consumer collapse as clear as a Lowes parking lot on a Saturday afternoon? Sometimes I wonder if I’m just seeing the world through my pessimistic lens, skewing my point of view. My daily commute through West Philadelphia is not very enlightening, as the squalor, filth and lack of legal commerce remain consistent from year to year. This community is sustained by taxpayer subsidized low income housing, taxpayer subsidized food stamps, welfare payments, and illegal drug dealing. The dependency attitude, lifestyles of slothfulness and total lack of commerce has remained constant for decades in West Philly. It is on the weekends, cruising around a once thriving suburbia, where you perceive the persistent deterioration and decay of our debt fixated consumer spending based society.

The last two weekends I’ve needed to travel the highways of Montgomery County, PA going to a family party and purchasing a garbage disposal for my sink at my local Lowes store. Montgomery County is the typical white upper middle class suburb, with tracts of McMansions dotting the landscape. The population of 800,000 is spread over a 500 square mile area. Over 81% of the population is white, with the 9% black population confined to the urban enclaves of Norristown and Pottstown.

The median age is 38 and the median household income is $75,000, 50% above the national average. The employers are well diversified with an even distribution between education, health care, manufacturing, retail, professional services, finance and real estate. The median home price is $300,000, also 50% above the national average. The county leans Democrat, with Obama winning 60% of the vote in 2008. The 300,000 households were occupied by college educated white collar professionals. From a strictly demographic standpoint, Montgomery County appears to be a prosperous flourishing community where the residents are living lives of relative affluence. But, if you look closer and connect the dots, you see fissures in this façade of affluence that spread more expansively by the day. The cheap oil based, automobile dependent, mall centric, suburban sprawl, sanctuary of consumerism lifestyle is showing distinct signs of erosion. The clues are there for all to see and portend a bleak future for those mentally trapped in the delusions of a debt dependent suburban oasis of retail outlets, chain restaurants, office parks and enclaves of cookie cutter McMansions. An unsustainable paradigm can’t be sustained.         

The first weekend had me driving along Ridge Pike, from Collegeville to Pottstown. Ridge Pike is a meandering two lane road that extends from Philadelphia, winds through Conshohocken, Plymouth Meeting, Norristown, past Ursinus College in Collegeville, to the farthest reaches of Montgomery County, at least 50 miles in length. It served as a main artery prior to the introduction of the interstates and superhighways that now connect the larger cities in eastern PA. Except for morning and evening rush hours, this road is fairly sedate. Like many primary routes in suburbia, the landscape is engulfed by strip malls, gas stations, automobile dealerships, office buildings, fast food joints, once thriving manufacturing facilities sitting vacant and older homes that preceded the proliferation of cookie cutter communities that now dominate what was once farmland.

Telltale Signs



I should probably be keeping my eyes on the road, but I can’t help but notice the telltale signs of an economic system gone haywire. As you drive along, the number of For Sale signs in front of homes stands out. When you consider how bad the housing market has been, the 40% decline in national home prices since 2007, the 30% of home dwellers underwater on their mortgage, and declining household income, you realize how desperate a home seller must be to try and unload a home in this market. The reality of the number of For Sale signs does not match the rhetoric coming from the NAR, government mouthpieces, CNBC pundits, and other housing recovery shills about record low inventory and home price increases.

The Federal Reserve/Wall Street/U.S. Treasury charade of foreclosure delaying tactics and selling thousands of properties in bulk to their crony capitalist buddies at a discount is designed to misinform the public. My local paper lists foreclosures in the community every Monday morning. In 2009 it would extend for four full pages. Today, it still extends four full pages. The fact that Wall Street bankers have criminally forged mortgage documents, people are living in houses for two years without making mortgage payments, and the Federal Government backing 97% of all mortgages while encouraging 3.5% down financing does not constitute a true housing recovery. Show me the housing recovery in these charts.

Existing home sales are at 1998 levels, with 45 million more people living in the country today.


New single family homes under construction are below levels in 1969, when there were 112 million less people in the country.


Another observation that can be made as you cruise through this suburban mecca of malaise is the overall decay of the infrastructure, appearances and disinterest or inability to maintain properties. The roadways are potholed with fading traffic lines, utility poles leaning and rotting, and signage corroding and antiquated. Houses are missing roof tiles, siding is cracked, gutters astray, porches sagging, windows cracked, a paint brush hasn’t been utilized in decades, and yards are inundated with debris and weeds. Not every house looks this way, but far more than you would think when viewing the overall demographics for Montgomery County. You wonder how many number among the 10 million vacant houses in the country today. The number of dilapidated run down properties paints a picture of the silent, barely perceptible Depression that grips the country today. With such little sense of community in the suburbs, most people don’t even know their neighbors. With the electronic transfer of food stamps, unemployment compensation, and other welfare benefits you would never know that your neighbor is unemployed and hasn’t made the mortgage payment on his house in 30 months. The corporate fascist ruling plutocracy uses their propaganda mouthpieces in the mainstream corporate media and government agency drones to misinform and obscure the truth, but the data and anecdotal observational evidence reveal the true nature of our societal implosion.

A report by the Census Bureau this past week inadvertently reveals data that confirms my observations on the roadways of my suburban existence. Annual household income fell in 2011 for the fourth straight year, to an inflation-adjusted $50,054. The median income — meaning half earned more, half less — now stands 8.9% lower than the all-time peak of $54,932 in 1999. It is far worse than even that dreadful result. Real median household income is lower than it was in 1989. When you understand that real household income hasn’t risen in 23 years, you can connect the dots with the decay and deterioration of properties in suburbia. A vast swath of Americans cannot afford to maintain their residences. If the choice is feeding your kids and keeping the heat on versus repairing the porch, replacing the windows or getting a new roof, the only option is survival.

 US GDP vs. Median Household Income       

All races have seen their income fall, with educational achievement reflected in the much higher incomes of Whites and Asians. It is interesting to note that after a 45 year War on Poverty the median household income for black families is only up 19% since 1968.  

real household income 

Now for the really bad news. Any critical thinking person should realize the Federal Government has been systematically under-reporting inflation since the early 1980’s in an effort to obscure the fact they are debasing the currency and methodically destroying the lives of middle class Americans. If inflation was calculated exactly as it was in 1980, the GDP figures would be substantially lower and inflation would be reported 5% higher than it is today. Faking the numbers does not change reality, only the perception of reality. Calculating real median household income with the true level of inflation exposes the true picture for middle class America. Real median household income is lower than it was in 1970, just prior to Nixon closing the gold window and unleashing the full fury of a Federal Reserve able to print fiat currency and politicians to promise the earth, moon and the sun to voters. With incomes not rising over the last four decades is it any wonder many of our 115 million households slowly rot and decay from within like an old diseased oak tree. The slightest gust of wind can lead to disaster.  


Eliminating the last remnants of fiscal discipline on bankers and politicians in 1971 accomplished the desired result of enriching the top 0.1% while leaving the bottom 90% in debt and desolation. The Wall Street debt peddlers, Military Industrial arms dealers, and job destroying corporate goliaths have reaped the benefits of financialization (money printing) while shoveling the costs, their gambling losses, trillions of consumer debt, and relentless inflation upon the working tax paying middle class. The creation of the Federal Reserve and implementation of the individual income tax in 1913, along with leaving the gold standard has rewarded the cabal of private banking interests who have captured our economic and political systems with obscene levels of wealth, while senior citizens are left with no interest earnings ($400 billion per year has been absconded from savers and doled out to bankers since 2008 by Ben Bernanke) and the middle class has gone decades seeing their earnings stagnate and their purchasing power fall precipitously.


The facts exposed in the chart above didn’t happen by accident. The system has been rigged by those in power to enrich them, while impoverishing the masses. When you gain control over the issuance of currency, issuance of debt, tax system, political system and legal apparatus, you’ve essentially hijacked the country and can funnel all the benefits to yourself and costs to the math challenged, government educated, brainwashed dupes, known as the masses. But there is a problem for the .01%. Their sociopathic personalities never allow them to stop plundering and preying upon the sheep. They have left nothing but carcasses of the once proud hard working middle class across the country side. There are only so many Lear jets, estates in the Hamptons, Jaguars, and Rolexes the .01% can buy. There are only 152,000 of them. Their sociopathic looting and pillaging of the national wealth has destroyed the host. When 90% of the population can barely subsist, collapse and revolution beckon.                

Extend, Pretend & Depend

As I drove further along Ridge Pike we passed the endless monuments to our spiral into the depths of materialism, consumerism, and the illusion that goods purchased on credit represented true wealth. Mile after mile of strip malls, restaurants, gas stations, and office buildings rolled by my window. Anyone who lives in the suburbs knows what I’m talking about. You can’t travel three miles in any direction without passing a Dunkin Donuts, KFC, McDonalds, Subway, 7-11, Dairy Queen, Supercuts, Jiffy Lube or Exxon Station. The proliferation of office parks to accommodate the millions of paper pushers that make our service economy hum has been unprecedented in human history. Never have so many done so little in so many places. Everyone knows what a standard American strip mall consists of – a pizza place, a Chinese takeout, beer store, a tanning, salon, a weight loss center, a nail salon, a Curves, karate studio, Gamestop, Radioshack, Dollar Store, H&R Block, and a debt counseling service. They are a reflection of who we’ve become – an obese drunken species with excessive narcissistic tendencies that prefers to play video games while texting on our iGadgets as our debt financed lifestyles ultimately require professional financial assistance.

What you can’t ignore today is the number of vacant storefronts in these strip malls and the overwhelming number of SPACE AVAILABLE, FOR LEASE, and FOR RENT signs that proliferate in front of these dying testaments to an unsustainable economic system based upon debt fueled consumer spending and infinite growth assumptions. The booming sign manufacturer is surely based in China. The officially reported national vacancy rates of 11% are already at record highs, but anyone with two eyes knows these self-reported numbers are a fraud. Vacancy rates based on my observations are closer to 30%. This is part of the extend and pretend strategy that has been implemented by Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, the FASB, and the Wall Street banking cabal. The fraud and false storyline of a commercial real estate recovery is evident to anyone willing to think critically. The incriminating data is provided by the Federal Reserve in their Quarterly Delinquency Report.

The last commercial real estate crisis occurred in 1991. Mall vacancy rates were at levels consistent with today.   


The current reported office vacancy rates of 17.5% are only slightly below the 19% levels of 1991.


As reported by the Federal Reserve, delinquency rates on commercial real estate loans in 1991 were 12%, leading to major losses among the banks that made those imprudent loans. Amazingly, after the greatest financial collapse in history, delinquency rates on commercial loans supposedly peaked at 8.8% in the 2nd quarter of 2010 and have now miraculously plummeted to pre-collapse levels of 4.9%. This is while residential loan delinquencies have resumed their upward trajectory, the number of employed Americans has fallen by 414,000 in the last two months, 9 million Americans have left the labor force since 2008, and vacancy rates are at or near all-time highs. This doesn’t pass the smell test. The Federal Reserve, owned and controlled by the Wall Street, instructed these banks to extend all commercial real estate loans, pretend they will be paid, and value them on their books at 100% of the original loan amount. Real estate developers pretend they are collecting rent from non-existent tenants, Wall Street banks pretend they are being paid by the developers, and their highly compensated public accounting firm pretends the loans aren’t really delinquent. Again, the purpose of this scam is to shield the Wall Street bankers from accepting the losses from their reckless behavior. Ben rewards them with risk free income on their deposits, propped up by mark to fantasy accounting, while they reward themselves with billions in bonuses for a job well done. The master plan requires an eventual real recovery that isn’t going to happen. Press releases and fake data do not change the reality on the ground.    

I have two strip malls within three miles of my house that opened in 1990. When I moved to the area in 1995, they were 100% occupied and a vital part of the community. The closest center has since lost its Genuardi grocery store, Sears Hardware, Blockbuster, Donatos, Sears Optical, Hollywood Tans, hair salon, pizza pub and a local book store. It is essentially a ghost mall, with two banks, a couple chain restaurants and empty parking spaces. The other strip mall lost its grocery store anchor and sporting goods store. This has happened in an outwardly prosperous community. The reality is the apparent prosperity is a sham. The entire tottering edifice of housing, autos, and retail has been sustained by ever increasing levels of debt for the last thirty years and the American consumer has hit the wall. From 1950 through the early 1980s, when the working middle class saw their standard of living rise, personal consumption expenditures accounted for between 60% and 65% of GDP. Over the last thirty years consumption has relentlessly grown as a percentage of GDP to its current level of 71%, higher than before the 2008 collapse.                 


If the consumption had been driven by wage increases, then this trend would not have been a problem. But, we already know real median household income is lower than it was in 1970. The thirty years of delusion were financed with debt – peddled, hawked, marketed, and pushed by the drug dealers on Wall Street. The American people got hooked on debt and still have not kicked the habit. The decline in household debt since 2008 is solely due to the Wall Street banks writing off $800 billion of mortgage, credit card, and auto loan debt and transferring the cost to the already drowning American taxpayer.      


The powers that be are desperately attempting to keep this unsustainable, dysfunctional debt choked scheme from disintegrating by doling out more subprime auto debt, subprime student loan debt, low down payment mortgages, and good old credit card debt. It won’t work. The consumer is tapped out. Last week’s horrific retail sales report for August confirmed this fact. Declining household income and rising costs for energy, food, clothing, tuition, taxes, health insurance, and the other things needed to survive in the real world, have broken the spirit of Middle America. The protracted implosion of our consumer society has only just begun. There are thousands of retail outlets to be closed, hundreds of thousands of jobs to be eliminated, thousands of malls to be demolished, and billions of loan losses to be incurred by the criminal Wall Street banks.

The Faces of Failure & Futility

My fourteen years working in key positions for big box retailer IKEA has made me particularly observant of the hubris and foolishness of the big chain stores that dominate the retail landscape.  There are 1.1 million retail establishments in the United States, but the top 25 mega-store national chains account for 25% of all the retail sales in the country. The top 100 retailers operate 243,000 stores and account for approximately $1.6 trillion in sales, or 36% of all the retail sales in the country. Their misconceived strategic plans assumed 5% same store growth for eternity, economic growth of 3% per year for eternity, a rising market share, and ignorance of the possible plans of their competitors. They believed they could saturate a market without over cannibalizing their existing stores. Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowes have all hit the limits of profitable expansion. Each incremental store in a market results in lower profits.

My trip to my local Lowes last weekend gave me a glimpse into a future of failure and futility. Until 2009, I had four choices of Lowes within 15 miles of my house. There was a store 8 miles east, 12 miles west, 15 miles north, and 15 miles south of my house. In an act of supreme hubris, Lowes opened a stores smack in the middle of these four stores, four miles from my house. The Hatfield store opened in early 2009 and I wrote an article detailing how Lowes was about to ruin their profitability in Montgomery County. It just so happens that I meet a couple of my old real estate buddies from IKEA at a local pub every few months. In 2009 one of them had a real estate position with Lowes and we had a spirited discussion about the prospects for the Lowes Hatfield store. He assured me it would be a huge success. I insisted it would be a dud and would crush the profitability of the market by cannibalizing the other four stores. We met at that same pub a few months ago. Lowes had laid him off and he admitted to me the Hatfield store was a disaster.

I pulled into the Lowes parking lot at 11:30 am on a Saturday. Big Box retailers do 50% of their business on the weekend. The busiest time frame is from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturday. Big box retailers build enough parking spots to handle this peak period. The 120,000 square feet Hatfield Lowes has approximately 1,000 parking spaces. I pulled into the spot closest to the entrance during their supposed peak period. There were about 70 cars in the parking lot, with most probably owned by Lowes workers. It is a pleasure to shop in this store, with wide open aisles, and an employee to customer ratio of four to one. The store has 14 checkout lanes and at peak period on a Saturday, there was ONE checkout lane open, with no lines. This is a corporate profit disaster in the making, but the human tragedy far overrides the declining profits of this mega-retailer.

As you walk around this museum of tools and toilets you notice the looks on the faces of the workers. These aren’t the tattooed, face pierced freaks you find in many retail establishments these days. They are my neighbors. They are the beaten down middle class. They are the middle aged professionals who got cast aside by the mega-corporations in the name of efficiency, outsourcing, right sizing, stock buybacks, and executive stock options. The irony of this situation is lost on those who have gutted the American middle class. When you look into the eyes of these people, you see sadness, confusion and embarrassment. They know they can do more. They want to do more. They know they’ve been screwed, but they aren’t sure who to blame. They were once the very customers propelling Lowes’ growth, buying new kitchens, appliances, and power tools. Now they can’t afford a can of paint on their $10 per hour, no benefit retail careers. As depressing as this portrait appears, it is about to get worse.

This Lowes will be shut down and boarded up within the next two years. The parking lot will become a weed infested eyesore occupied by 14 year old skateboarders. One hundred and fifty already down on their luck neighbors will lose their jobs, the township will have a gaping hole in their tax revenue, and the CEO of Lowes will receive a $50 million bonus for his foresight in announcing the closing of 100 stores that he had opened five years before. This exact scenario will play out across suburbia, as our unsustainable system comes undone. Our future path will parallel the course of the labor participation rate. Just as the 9 million Americans who have “left” the labor force since 2008 did not willfully make that choice, the debt burdened American consumer will be dragged kicking and screaming into the new reality of a dramatically reduced standard of living.           


Connecting the dots between my anecdotal observations of suburbia and a critical review of the true non-manipulated data bestows me with a not optimistic outlook for the coming decade. Is what I’m seeing just the view of a pessimist, or are you seeing the same thing?

A few powerful men have hijacked our economic, financial and political structure. They aren’t socialists or capitalists. They’re criminals. They created the culture of materialism, greed and debt, sustained by prodigious levels of media propaganda. Our culture has been led to believe that debt financed consumption over morality and justice is the path to success. In reality, we’ve condemned ourselves to a slow painful death spiral of debasement and despair.

“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” – Chris Hedges

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Pladizow's picture

Birth, Growth, Maturation, Decline, Death!

hedgeless_horseman's picture



They are my neighbors. They are the beaten down middle class. They are the middle aged professionals who got cast aside by the mega-corporations in the name of efficiency, outsourcing, right sizing, stock buybacks, and executive stock options.

Your neighbors all probably buy their food, clothes, shoes, and toys at Wal-Mart.  Your neighbors all probably wouldn't know how to "live within their means" if their lives depended on it. 

They could shop at locally-owned stores, stupid mother fuckers.  They could keep their capital close to home.

Nobody to blame but themselves.

Save money.  Live better.

WMT up 23.82% YTD.

bunnyswanson's picture

Who can afford to shop at any other store?  Wal-Mart prices are so goddam low it's obscene.  In my town of 180,000, there are 3 Wal-Marts.  All within 8 miles of each other. 


During credit expansion, mom and pop stores moved to the high end of town, left empty storefront behind and now, the new stores are empty too.  Empty businesses are everywhere.  There is no traffic at rush hour.  No long lines at counters. 


Wal-Mart expansion has been the stake in the heart of small American and Canadian businesses.  Along with Target.  In california, the stores have taken on a new theme - subdued lighting, higher prices, smaller selection.  They are being designed to attract upper middle class.  Soon, the prices will go even higher.  But these stores are built like they can be taken down in 24 hours.   Even dollar-store businesses are closed. 


2nd hand stores, massage parlors, liquor stores, lingerie shops are now what make up Main Street. 


Chambers of Commerce on a local level deserve the reward for extinguishing small businesses, not the shoppers.


And on OWS, they are now being told to disperse or get arrested.  So one cannot even stand out side and ask the very obvious question:  "Why are you doing this to American middle class?"


It is happening in Canada as well. 


Getting arrested is no small matter.  These kids are going to have a record following them along with the cost of being caught up in the judicial system.


 (oops typo)

john39's picture

and those kids are braver than most of us... then again, they have probably just figured out the truth that confronts most of us... nothing left to loose...  so why not fight?  thinks are just going to magically get better until people start to overcome their programming and stand up for themselves...

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Chambers of Commerce on a local level deserve the reward for extinguishing small businesses, not the shoppers.

Maybe at the very begining, but no longer.  You cannot tell me there are no more locally owned businesses, that compete with WAL*MART, for you to patronize right now today.

You have to be ignorant to bitch about low wages and still shop at WAL*MART.

Son of Loki's picture

I was in Philidelphia once and saw a place on the map, "Germantown" so I drove out there to get some home-made Brats and stuff.


However, there were no Brat shopws there and definitely no Germans there anymore. Glad I made it out of there with my life!

Jumbotron's picture


You are so cosmically stupid that if you were a black hole you would now be sucking down half of the Solar System AND John Corzine's dick at the same time.







hedgeless_horseman's picture




So how do you explain the success of a grocery store chain like Brookshire Brothers?

As a self-distributing company, supplied by our own procurement staff, our company is positioned for sustained, long term growth, with over 6,000 employee-owners who make this area their home.

I don't know if it is a coincidence, but I seem to recall that our locally owned hardware store, just down the street from Brookshire Brothers, was booming last Saturday morning at 11:00am. 

You may consider reading this book by J.H. Kunstler:

He likes to cuss, too.

Tortuga's picture

Yea, Brookshires is a great store, HEB is always packed in the little towns around the big cities and now that you mention it, Ace hardware down the street is always busy as the Rio Grande Mercado across the street.

sessinpo's picture

"So how do you explain the success of a grocery store chain like Brookshire Brothers?"


Merge with an oil company?

From the link and website of the company you provided.

"In 2007, our company merged with Polk Oil Co. of Lufkin, Texas"


Incidentally, the "Who We Are" page, , indicates that Polk also does:


Lottery Tickets

Money Orders

Prepaid Calling Cards


All highly profitable ventures with relatively low labor costs per overall revenue. 

Imminent Crucible's picture

Jim Kunstler likes to cuss? Well, yeah, but at least he knows how to use the shift key, unlike Junko-Tron.

Mr. Quinn wants to know if he's just a pessimist. Yes, Jim. You are definitely a pessimist. But that doesn't make you wrong, it just makes you angry and depressed about the facts. And the Philly area is no doubt worse off than a lot of regions.

There is a lot of work ahead of us, as most Americans are still half-asleep, with no more than a dim sense that something is terribly wrong with the country and that the White House, Congress, the Treasury and especially the Fed are powerless to do anything about it. What we have to do is get our neighbors to understand that the government and the Fed are exactly what is wrong with the country.  And then we have to get them to understand that these criminals are not going to roll over and play dead for us. We're going to have to take our country back the hard way.

Step No. 1: Stop feeding the problem. Pull your business away from the major corporations, take your money out of the TBTF banks, arrange your affairs so that you pay as close to zero taxes as possible. This monstrosity is going to collapse under the weight of its own corruption, but you don't want to be standing where it falls.

I would think prudence would lead Jim Quinn to get himself and his family out of the Philadelphia area. That dump is going to turn into an apocalyptic nightmare when the EBT fountain runs dry.

CClarity's picture

Jim is a pessimist who is sharing realism.  I live near San Francisco and not far from Silicon Valley, in a suburb considered affluent.  In recent years, many neighbors have stopped paying their mortgage, even if they were able, but remain in their homes.  The banks don't want to take back homes in this neighborhood because they would rather have them occupied by "non-squatters" that will at least keep up appearances and not strip them down of appliances and copper wiring.  If under $1million, banks will try to sell.  The market over $1.5mil is slow and sporadic and mostly sold by homeowners not banks, but not many buyers in that zone.  Still plenty of buyers over in Silicon and on the Penninsula in every price category.

Today, noticed the local camera store is going out of business.  It had been rolled up twice in the past decade, eventually owned by a chain that went Chptr 11 a while ago.  Sold or closed some stores, but tried to reorganize with rest.  This particular store had essentially same employees for past decade.  All very pleasant, knowledgeable, helpful and service oriented.  I popped in to say I was sorry to see the sign - how were they.  They were shell-shocked.  All stores being closed.  No package for employees, they doubt they'll get vacation days/pay owed them.  Came out of the blue over the weekend.  A lot of talent with no where to go (yes, camera and film development, even with digital special services has been disrupted by internet services, mobilephone cameras, etc).  They said company has a liquidator to "acquire" was is available  for next to nothing.  The two stores next to them have also gone out of business in the past 2 months.  Another set of stores 3 blocks away, not really a strip mall, has 7 of 14 stores closed with for lease signs.

Still some pizza stores, plenty of nail salons, exercise and weight businesses, banks a-go-go, pet food stores, phones storefronts, and tutoring services. Also some upscale restaurants with thriving specialy cocktail businesses keeping them flush.  The Whole Foods, Safeway, Trader Joes, and a wonderful local grocerer of excellent quality all seem to be fine, with full parking lots and busy checkout counters.  I do notice that Safeway is very often missing certain items, as though they won't replenish shelves from inventory in back, but just on day to day delivery schedule. A little of that at Trader Joes too.  Not at the other two.

So in this corner of the country I'd say anecdotally that people still want their good food and alcohol- grocery or restaurant, and coffee cafes, but they're scaling back on tanning, specialty clothing, bookstores, and children's toys.  Even the cupcake boutique just closed.

steve from virginia's picture


Good discussion.


A problem for the smaller businesses is the source of supply is a small handful of manufacturers in China. The products available from the downtown retailers are the same products offered at the boxes. The only way for one to compete with the other is by price. The boxes are designed from the ground up to take advantage of lower opportunity costs.


Small businesses have to go head-to-head with cartels which can float enormous debts and use them to ruin the competition.


In the old days there was diversity of goods and sources of supply, businesses offered service such as delivery and store-credit. Food and clothing were locally sourced. Today the customers are a necessary part of the 'logistics chain': they must go out and wrassle their goods like stevedores. A person without a car finds it hard to shop. Buying a few bags of groceries requires $30,000 up front fee along with thousands more in annual operating expenses.


The increasing real cost for petroleum strands US consumption infrastructure such as malls and tract houses. These are only remunerative with $30/barrel crude or lower. With US crude near $100 the US economy is marooned.


If prices go to $30 it will because nobody has any money, it may as well be $3,000. This outcome is coming to a tract housing development near you.


The future of the entire world is Greece right now. That country cannot afford to pay for its own past consumption, there is nothing the Greeks can offer for its future consumption, either. The US is no different: in exchange for 100 years of fuel waste there are millions of unemployed on food stamps, run down buildings and used cars. Good luck selling that ... 'dream'!

Kobe Beef's picture

Dear Imminent Crucible,

"What we have to do is get our neighbors to understand that the government and the Fed are exactly what is wrong with the country."

Start calling it the Imperial Government instead of the Federal Government. Those who can see will know what you mean, those who can't will often ask what you mean by that. Then you have a chance to open their eyes as well.

Fight the good Fight,


A Nanny Moose's picture



There...fixed. You'll need to fix your own CAPS LOCK key. Don't blame capitalism for that which is caused by government "solutions."

Cosimo de Medici's picture

I don't have a solution, but what you are saying is that if we could pay Chinese wages here, we could keep the jobs at home.   The free market clearing price for unskilled labor (assuming no government safety net such as SNAP, UEI, SSDI) might be around a dollar an hour.   Perhaps that is where we are heading.  With the safety net, the clearing price might be pretty close to the current minimum wage.  Thus, as a nation we outsource and arbitrage labor.

The large company has another advantage---in addition to having the ability/incentive to outsource---of really low cost capital.  Mom and Pop stores can't get loans, and they can't issue bonds at a hundred pips over Treasuries.  Oh, and they lack volume buying power.

Is our choice going pre-last Friday India?  All that does is hand enormous power to the middleman.

As I said, I don't have a solution, but I don't see anyone else has one either.  Retooling society is going to take time.

Tortuga's picture

Hey, if you're gonna dis the Confederates, you at least ought to give equal time to the northern slumlords and the .01% that paid my immigrant Scottish forefathers to take their place in the trenches.

cdude's picture

WHY ARE WE SHOUTING (hear Mick Jagger)

Papasmurf's picture

Learn how to work your caps-lock key.

CPL's picture

Your keyboard is broken.


I understand walmart sells those.

MachoMan's picture

The issue isn't with walmart per se, it's with the brick and mortar store concept entirely.  I think the better question is how mom and pop compete with amazon and other e-tailer/warehouse models...  Walmart's success is that it's simply the focal point of the retail market and is one of the last dinosaurs left standing.  The fact that its logistics department is as good as fedex or ups is simply a core competency that most other retailers can't compete with.  At the end of the day, people want to go into a store and shop or need things in an emergency...  this is ALL retail stores will carry in the future... 

And it isn't inconsistent to shop at walmart when it's all you can afford...  practically speaking, I think this whole spend local meme will not make any material difference to the issues that plague us.  There are some things that will naturally progress locally (food production and sale), but for many others the concept of mom and pop is NEVER coming back.

nofluer's picture

Never underestimate the theraputic value of retail therapy.

SmackDaddy's picture

^ For reals dude.  Macho, your perspective makes it obvious you havent had any female contact in a long while.

Gully Foyle's picture


fuck dude at least your town has massage parlors.

Tortuga's picture

Well, thanks for the rationalisms. Stratigery can be formulated from reading such observations. Bet you didn't know you had come down with an ism.

Loose Caboose's picture

This is, sadly, very true.  With shrinking wages, it unrealistic to expect that people will not seek out a bargain.  It's the age-old question - what came first?  The bargain shopping leading to the ruin of mom and pop's or the ruin of mom and pop's leading to a flood to Walmart's doors?

It's been my experience that someone who can afford quality goods will opt for the smaller, locally owned businesses where the quality is often better to justify the slightly elevated price tag.  But when things get tight, quality becomes secondary to lower prices and then it's Walmart.


ArmyofOne's picture

Not true that Wally-World prices are low.  I went to buy 2 bags of Scott's fertilizer for the lawn and it cost $52.48 there and at Lowes $44.42.    Wally sells junk not worth the higher prices they charge.  You might find a few items lower but its in no way cheap any more.  They rely on peoples perceptions of lower prices and there lazyness not to comparison shop.

Chuck Walla's picture

You people act as if Walmart pulled this off all on their own. they did not. They thrive because politicians back bloated and corrupt unions, unfavorable work rules, an out of control OSHA and EPA. Oh, and over taxation to but all those welfare voters.

Give Americans back their freedom and this country will take off. Keep choking it with stupid rules and taxes, what you see is what you get. If more regulation and high, unfavorable taxe laws are the way then this mother-fucker, the UK and Europe ought to going gang-busters. So, we have to at least consider the possibility that all the complicated rules and tax laws do is offer up more chances for the politician to sell favors to the highest bidders. How does that help anyone but the asshole running for office?


Jumbotron's picture

Fuck you hedgeless_horseman with Jamie Dimon's dick with no lube and a sandpaper condom.

WAL - FUCKING - MART ran those "locally owned" stores....out of business a LONG LONG time ago....with the help of the same local and state political whores of the banksters who touted job growth and more tax revenue when they pimped those very same Wal-Marts with their real estate and tax breaks to boot.

Obviously you suck off the dead tit of Ayn fucking, heartless fool.

"Keep their capital close to home" shit for brains....and that's giving shit a bad name.....WAL MARTS ARE CLOSER TO THEIR HOMES IN MANY CASES.

You assinine New World Order Globalist Wage Arbitrage Pig Fucker.  I hope you make a bad bet in the Wall Street Casino and Blankfein fucks you all the way through your margin call.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



Argumentum ad hominem has little effect on the site.  You might try Yahoo!

Abusive ad hominem (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponents in order to attack their claims or invalidate their arguments, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. This is logically fallacious because it relates to the opponent's personal character, which has nothing to do with the logical merit of the opponent's argument, whereas mere verbal abuse in the absence of an argument is not ad hominem nor any kind of logical fallacy.

...and regarding...

...ran those "locally owned" stores....out of business a LONG LONG time ago

We still, today, shop locally owned stores for groceries we do not produce ourselves.  Most of our clothes and shoes are made and retailed locally.  We do not shop at WAL*MART and get along just fine.  Maybe it is because we know enough to care?


sessinpo's picture

I am not for or against your argument. I just want to point out that just because you do something doesn't make your argument correct or wrong.

By doing so, you are suggesting that others are in the same circumstances you are which may or may not be so. I am fortunate to have a job that pays +20/hour so I also have that option. But I know many others that don't. I can only encourage them to try to improve their financial situation, generally through education, so that they may achieve higher earnings and have more options.

krispkritter's picture

HH, like your posts but this thread(and I don't agree with JUMBO) isn't necessarily applicable across the board. The 'local' business is not always present so I do the next best thing in my opinion and support small business via the Web, Ebay, Amazon, etc. where most small businessess have a presence in order to support their "local' business. I do this myself. There is a concerted effort by .GOV at all levels simply to fill their coffers regardless of who pays. Walmart was in part so successful because local governments would bend over and hand off tax and property concessions left and right to get Wally to come to town.  Can you honestly say those concessions were offered to Mom & Pop, Inc.? Rarely if ever. And now that the M&P's have moved online, there is a concerted effort to tax Internet purchases at every level just to pad the coffers again. And who's going to be able to manage that burden?  Amazon or M& I agree you can support local to a degree; I actively support farmer's stands/markets, local service businesses(like PA's), etc. but as I'm in technology, there is NO way for someone in this kneck of the woods to support what I require for my clients. There is not ONE non-chain grocery in this area except an Organic food store and I can shop there at best once a month for specific products. The playing field is definitely against small and local business but that's because of the layers of bureaucratic bullshit and expense they deal with which does drive up their costs at a higher percentage than a biz-hemoth like Wally which in a lot of cases puts them out of reach of a consumer that is similarly being crushed by inflation and runaway unemployemnt. And that means small biz' get fewer and far between each year and thus, there is no local resource. There is going to have to be a severe backlash to taxation and regulation at every level of Gov before this counrty is producing as it used to.  There is no way that the free-spending ways of Gov can be managed, past or future, on the backs of a broken-down tax base. Alright, I need a beer...(bought locally, brewed in-state)...

Tortuga's picture

So, do you shop at Walmart or not?

Personally, the chinese brand wavy chips are better @ Target.

TAfool's picture

Once you come down off your drug induced stupor you might see what really happened.

Wal*Mart did not run anyone out of town. Wal*Mart did not force anyone to shop in their stores. Who ran Mom-n-Pop out of business? The consumer that voted with their wallet. The very same consumer that votes the same criminals into office year after year. The populace destroyed Mom-n-Pop and this once great nation. Look no further than the nearest mirror.

Wal*Mart is innocent of this crime, it is you and your neighbors that are guilty.

Loose Caboose's picture

Personally, I don't shop at Walmart.  But my wants are few.  I lead a very simple life.  But, I can't blame my neighbours or other family members who do shop there when they are struggling to make ends meet with kids to raise, etc.  The sheeple are dumb.  They do not knowingly spend their dollars in clear understanding that they are ruining mom and pop.  They don't give it that much thought.

Do you really think refusing to shop at Walmart will make it go away especially when the real reason it's there is because nothing is manufactured here anymore?  The sheeple are not responsible for everything coming from China, lower wages, unemployment and off-shoring of their jobs.  It's a tall order to say they are "guilty" of anything except trying to make ends meet. 

Let's place the blame where it belongs - at the top.  Blaming some minimum-wage single mom for buying shoes for the kids at Wallyworld isn't going to solve anything.

I hope you don't hurt yourself getting off that high horse.

Jumbotron's picture

TAfool is yet another blind devotee to the secular religion of Globalist Wage Arbitrage Capitalism just like hedgeless asshole.

The public voted with their wallets with the same "freedom of choice" that is presented them every 4 years.  When your real wages are stagnant even before inflation is included....when your savings are destroyed everytime you roll over your money market account...or your CD or whatever fixed income device you have.....when inflation at the the grocery the doctors your kid's school or university.....what REAL choice do your have when you are desperately trying to watch every penny you spend?

If you have enough discretionary income to blow on the same Chinese made product at a mom and pop....or a smaller, regional chain....then bully for you. 

But don't try to piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.  The destruction of the mom and pops and the rise of the big box retail just like what has happened to fishing here in North Florida.  At one could have five guys on both sides of a boat just pitching out bright sinkers above their hooks and catch fish as quick as you could shake off one and throw your baitless hook into the water.  Now.....mostly what you get.....especially up in Georgia is Cannonball Jellyfish.....which you can't catch enough of in our acidized, fished out waters.  But hey....its a big business now.....shipping that shit guessed it.......China...and Japan.

What I am saying is.....Wal Mart is the Cannonball what used to be a thriving, varied marketplace.  Now....its a wastel;and of monocultured Big Box stores, with the purchasing power to sell things cheap enough for the hollowed out Middle Class and still make a profit off the volume.

Grow up and get a clue about the real world junior.  Put down the video game.

jwoop66's picture

Every time I go into a mom and pops store, I find substandard goods at an exhorbitant price.  I find they don't usually carry a wide selection of goods.  I also usually only see mom or pops working there.  If there is another employee, I'm sure they are paid what ever the market rate for there position is. 

Walmart has good and bad quality items for the consumer to make a choice.  Walmart has a huge selection of items.  Walmart employs way more people than the four, five or six mom and pops stores each Walmart store allegedly replaced, and it provides them with better pay and benefits than mom and pop ever could.  

Walmart started as a mom and pops store, but lead the way in giving the customer what they want, and with good customer service.  

I remember one mom and pops sporting goods store where I grew up (long Island, NY) where the owner, who was the only employee I ever saw there, used to follow us around the store and tell us not to touch any thing or steal anything.   At the time, his was the most convenient place to get our sporting goods, so we patronized his establishment.  He was a rude creep. 

I would go to Walmart 10 miles away before I walked down the block to purchase something from that guy.

jwoop66's picture

Oh, and I forgot to say; Jumbo, you seem like a rude, obnoxious piece of shit. 

Cosimo de Medici's picture

Jumbo, You're always opinionated (a good thing), but usually more reserved.  This is a bit out of character, so your passion must ride in tandem with an answer, yes?

As I wrote above, I don't have an answer, but would like to hear what one might be.  The ability to arbitrage wages, which many will argue is the free market at work, means wages will be arbitraged, as will pollution, working conditions, etc.  The alternative seems to be some control by some outside body, whether that is government or an industry watchdog.  That has its own drawbacks.  Then there is consumer choice, which is driven largely by wallets.  Most people want all labor to be arbitraged except in their own field. (Reminds me of a cartoon in Grant's from a decade ago in which the caption was:  "Lord, I know asset inflation is wrong, but please let it happen to my portfolio before you stop it")

There can never be a totally leveled playing field.  Size has its advantages, in sourcing power for both inventory and capital.

So what is the compromise?  What is the solution?  I'm not arguing with you, but I can't get past theory and ideal and reach possible.

decon's picture

In a world where different cultures and countries are even partially open to monetary exchange and business arrangements, over the long run, wealth is like water and seeks equilibrium.  That means the Chinese guys standard is going up and ours is going down and we're going to meet in the middle somewhere.  Get used to it!

JuliaS's picture

 Much like the taxpayers voted for wars with their taxes and gas-guzzling SUV's, consumers voted for WalMarts with their wallets. It's not something that happened overnight. The tell-tale signs were here all along, yet nobody complained until the very end. The consequences of irresponsible action cannot be wished away. The crisis that's been decades in the making will take decades to undo (with or without another World War).

slyhill's picture

This is the very end?

JuliaS's picture

 It's the end of expansion. Nothing bad about zero or negative growth if you plan for it. It's like the harvest - you know some years are going to be plentiful and others will yield nothing. You put enough seeds aside to last through the tough times and curb consumption when necessary. Physically it's easy to accomplish. The problem is that our fiat fractional reserve baking system is built for exponential expansion only and cannot handle even a slightest slowdown. The interest on the debt and defaults end up consuming the monetary supply, destroying commerce. A well structured commodity based exhcange system (such as the gold standard) is able to handle each direction of the economy without imploding upon itself. Price stability and other guarantees fiat provides are nonsense. Prices should reflect conditions. If they don't the economy does not work.

 When we go to war and engage in material destruction the feedback should be instantaneous. Prices should spike to reflect government spending. They don't. Instead we get a stretched out buffer effect. Same with outsourcing of manufacturing. We don't feel it right away because monetary inflation and credit boost consumption that should instead be declining etc.

 The Roman Empire ended, but the city of Rome still exists. Argentina defaulted, but there's still Argentina. USSR is gone, but the land and people are still around under a different set of flags. The end is of the old way of life.

 The end of banking in its current form is good. The bad thing is that transition will be painful and most people will be caught off guard. Those that have stolen the most under the old regime will blend in with the crowd and play victims. A decade later the old elite will crawl out of its hiding and through family ties re-establish influence (if we let them). I've lived though a collapse and seen it first hand. I know people that were stinkin' rich but when the thunder strck put on robes and went into bread-n-soup lines just to be like everyone else. They were the ones scared shitless of change and of what others might do to them if true identities were ever exposed. Some got caught, others made it through and are now richer than they were under the old regime.

Seer's picture

I'm no fan of Wal-Mart, but...

Go ahead and walk into any other store and tell me that they're not stocking the same crap (most made in China).

Yes, you can find some high-priced stuff elsewhere that's perhaps "Made in the USA," but really, does it really matter?

Consider that the US has HUGE trade deficit.  In essence we're not paying for stuff from outside the country.  And this equation has raw material exports in there; that is, it's likely that the total volume of extracted material would be less if it was (only?) applied within the US: well, I should think that in the long-run it's a good thing to not exhaust everything we have...

There just ain't no "solution" as long as we predicate ourselves on perpetual growth.  China-Mart is just the logical evolution to the illogical paradigm.

Oh, I bought a small chest freezer off of someone on Craigslist the other day: our existing one was taken over by our egg business (controller operating the unit as a fridge).  Much to my surprise the owner was a cousin of a friend of mine.  He'd lost a job at a nearby factory that had closed down and was adjusting to all of this.  I was happy to see that he was being resourceful, that he was finding that he could get by without all the new crap out there, that picking up and reanimating stuff from 2nd-hand stores was working: says that many of his neighbors who were also suffering don't seem to be adjusting.

It's a small world.  We've ALL been in on this whether we wish to admit it or not.  What matters is what we're going to now do.

Supply chains will shorten up.  Plan accordingly (hopefully one's plans include being part of providing within one's community).

sessinpo's picture

I would have to agree with you a bit on this Seer. I dabbled in the import/export business a little bit. Most retailers do not seek out American made products. They want what sells and a decent profit margin, regardless of who manufacturers it. Quite often, the retailer doesn't even know.

Gully Foyle's picture


"Alvin Toffler: still shocking after all these years: New Scientist meets the controversial futurologist"


, New Scientist, 19 March 1994, pp. 22-25. "What led you to write Future Shock? -- While covering Congress, it occurred to us that big technological and social changes were occurring in the United States, but that the political system seemed totally blind to their existence. Between 1955 and 1960, the birth control pill was introduced, television became universalized [sic], commercial jet travel came into being and a whole raft of other technological events occurred. Having spent several years watching the political process, we came away feeling that 99 per cent of what politicians do is keep systems running that were laid in place by previous generations of politicians. Our ideas came together in 1965 in an article called 'The future as a way of life', which argued that change was going to accelerate and that the speed of change could induce disorientation in lots of people. We coined the phrase 'future shock' as an analogy to the concept of culture shock. With future shock you stay in one place but your own culture changes so rapidly that it has the same disorienting effect as going to another culture"

Cursive's picture


My biggest gripe about Wal_Mart is the 10-year property tax moratoriums that the small town socialist economic development socialist gladly hand out to the ChiComm retailer.  I believe that at least 8 out of every 10 voting American believes their local economy improves with taxpayer subsidies such as these.

Buck Johnson's picture

Your exactly right, the issue is that most of america drank the kool aid and believed the propaganda coming from the govt. via the media pundits.  Now they are walking around in shock to find out that those dreams of riches and living a care free life in retirement are going away.  They are finally going to see what the rest of the world lives at,  no more of the US using 25% of the resources of the planet for 1/10th or less of the population. 

I think deep down they know that America and it's people will live in a world of diminishing returns and lowered living standards.

free's picture

...America and it's people NOW  live in a world of diminishing returns and lowered living standards.