Every year I have to go return some gift. It makes me feel a bit like I am landing in a hot zone. I check my pockets. Receipts? Check. Wallet? Check? Mace?...no, no mace, although it is not completely bad idea, considering that one woman who maced a bunch of shoppers this holiday season. And the actual riot at the Mall of America the other day. But that would be wrong. Not at all in the holiday spirit. Although The New York post did describe us as Sale-crazed shoppers, when talking about yesterday's so-called Mega-Monday.
Frankly, the thought of elbowing my way through the madding crowds-actually it now sounds like I may have to resort to Judo moves learned years ago to have any chance at surviving long enough to return something at all. It's enough to make me throw in the towel, not that I got a towel for Christmas, but there's a sweater with return me all over it. I won't say who it's from, but you know who you are.
The best part about the agony of making a return is that then you are there for the sales. That way the money doesn't leave the building. And, of course, a lot of folks have figured out that if you return something that was bought for more, you can buy it back on sale day and then get something else for the same price that the first item cost in the first place. That's capitalism, or so it seems.
But I am just betting that the stores have all this figured out, and that they make out pretty well with all this swapping, which is probably a lot more like capitalism really works. For one thing, I bet that whatever you buy, when it is 50 percent off, that's about what they paid for it in the first place. And they have to get rid of everything in the store-to make room for more stuff for us to buy for the next season.
This Mega Monday provided returners with a slew of deals, and, according to Reuters, the potential shopping boom comes as a weak labor market that has dragged on the economy shows signs of a turn. The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits hit a 3-1/2-year low in the week shortly before Christmas. And consumer sentiment scaled a six-month high in December with more Americans optimistic about the economic outlook. So I guess we are all ready to start shopping now that unemployment rates, while continuing to be over 8 percent (and that isn't close to the real number of unemployed), are less bad than they used to be. Actually, the real reason the number of unemployed is dropping is more likely due to people either giving up looking or not beginning to look in the first place, as you can see here, according to Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute. What you find is that the percentage of the population working in Nov. was 58.5 percent, the same as when unemployment peaked. What does that tell us? The working age population holding steady means both that new people joining are just replacing old people dropping out...at best. Worse, according to a comment on that story, the percent employed in 2000 was 64.4 percent, which, when you add everything up, means our present unemployment rate is closer to 14 percent.
Still, hope springs eternal in the mind of retailers, according to one figure, they hope to unload about $29 billion worth of goods, on sale or not, on this one Monday alone. That's more than the $27 billion sold on Black Friday, according to Reuters. And I hope they do.
I also hope that people appreciate, during this special, 50-percent-off time of year, that cutting out jobs of any kind right now, government or private, results in few total workers. That would seem fairly obvious. And that is something we do not need this moment.
I know that magical thinking suggests that if we just kill off the government somehow private industry will be out there fixing our infrastructure and bailing out our auto industry. But it won't. What capital will do is buy debt at 50 percent off. Just like we are buying stuff at sale prices on Mega-Monday. Besides, 30 years of trickle-down economics experimentation, that's right, since Ronald Reagan, has had its fun with the U.S. economy and it, like austerity (See present British Economy for a reference point here) does not appear to have worked. Unless you like 14 percent unemployment, massive government debt build-ups under every trickle-down administration and a stagnant economy. And don't dump this on Obama; it was already a mess when he got there. Trickle-down has been tried, quite fairly it would seem, and it has failed, cross-of-gold die-hards like Ron Paul to the contrary. And just by the way, houses and salaries are pretty much 50 percent off, too.
I don't need a sweater, or a towel, but I could sure use more working people. The virtuous circle of capitalism only works when everyone is working. That's how consumers pay my bills, and everyone else's, too.