Battle of the Behemoths

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Published : August 11th, 2017
832 words - Reading time : 2 - 3 minutes
( 5 votes, 4.2/5 ) , 2 commentaries
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As the empire deliquesces into a fetid slurry of economic failure, we stand ankle deep in the rising swamp waters witnessing the futile battle of the giants, Walmart and Amazon.

Neil Howe, co-author of The Fourth Turning, wrote this week that “[t]he Amazon-Walmart rivalry will determine the future of retail.” Well, it seems that way, perhaps, and I understand why a lot of people would imagine it, but I would draw some different conclusions. What we’re seeing is more like the battle between Godzilla and King Kong, two freaks of nature produced by a toxic culture, fixing to finish each other off.

The condition that will flavor events going forward is scale. Everything organized at the giant scale is going to fail. We have made all the systems of daily life too large and they will not function in the long emergency (and the fourth turning), an age characterized by universal contraction. This is true of corporations, institutions, schools, hospitals, farms, governments, virtually all organized enterprise. Retail is currently just the most visible example at the moment, since it is a commercial battleground that doesn’t enjoy public subsidies. The organisms on that field are exquisitely sensitive to economic reality, and the salient reality these days is the impoverishment of their customers, the former middle class.

This has been a sensational year for retail failure so far with a record number of brick-and-mortar store closings. But it is hardly due solely to Internet shopping. The nation was vastly over-stored by big chain operations. Their replication was based on a suicidal business model that demanded constant expansion, and was nourished by a regime of ultra-low interest rates promulgated by the Federal Reserve (and its cheerleaders in the academic econ departments). The goal of the business model was to enrich the executives and shareholders as rapidly as possible, not to build sustainable enterprise. As the companies march off the cliff of bankruptcy, these individuals will be left with enormous fortunes — and the American landscape will be left with empty, flat-roofed, throwaway buildings unsuited to adaptive re-use. Eventually, the empty Walmarts will be among them.

Just about everybody yakking in the public arena assumes that commerce will just migrate to the web. Think again. What you’re seeing now is a very short term aberration, the terminal expression of the cheap oil economy that is fumbling to a close. Apart from Amazon’s failure so far to ever show a corporate profit, Internet shopping requires every purchase to make a journey in a truck to the customer. In theory, it might not seem all that different from the Monkey Ward model of a hundred years ago. But things have changed in this land.

We made the unfortunate decision to suburbanize the nation, and now we’re stuck with the results: a living arrangement that can’t be serviced or maintained going forward, a living arrangement with no future. This includes the home delivery of every product under sun to every farflung housing subdivision from Rancho Cucamonga to Hackensack. Of course, the Big Box model, like Walmart, has also recruited every householder in his or her SUV into the company’s distribution network, and that’s going to become a big problem, too, as the beleaguered middle-class finds itself incrementally foreclosed from Happy Motoring and sinking into conditions of overt peonage.

The actual destination of retail in America is to be severely downscaled and reorganized locally. Main Street will be the new mall, and it will be a whole lot less glitzy than the failed gallerias of yore, but it will represent a range of activities that will put a lot of people back to work at the community level. It will necessarily entail the rebuilding of local and regional wholesale networks and means of distribution that don’t require trucking.

If you think we’re just going to switch the trucking industry over to electric vehicles or engines that run on bio-fuels, hydrogen, compressed air, or natural gas, you will be disappointed. Ain’t going to happen. We’re going to have to come up with something else, starting with the basic idea of the walkable community. This implies that we’re going to have to revive the existing towns and small cities that fit that description. And it also implies that a great deal of American suburbia will have to be abandoned. The capital will not be there to reform it. In any case, commerce later on in this century is not going to be anything like the Blue Light Special orgy of recent decades. And the transition will get underway with a speed that will make your head spin.

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James Howard Kunstler has worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he dropped out to write books on a full-time basis. His nonfiction book, "The Long Emergency," describes the changes that American society faces in the 21st century. Discerning an imminent future of protracted socioeconomic crisis, Kunstler foresees the progressive dilapidation of subdivisions and strip malls, the depopulation of the American Southwest, and, amid a world at war over oil, military invasions of the West Coast; when the convulsion subsides, Americans will live in smaller places and eat locally grown food.
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Another mindless Kunstler rant. After preaching the end of oil for decades, Kunstler was mortified that Capitalism - even under Obama's thumb - was able to discover enough oil to make America independent well into the distant future. Yet his rants continue. You see Kunstler has a loathing for individuals controlling their own lives - whether preferring their private autos to crime ridden public transit or, in this case, choosing to live in suburbia away from crime, sanctuary cities, filth, and local big governments.

As for Walmart and Amazon, Kunstler doesn't like ANY form of free enterprise - especially the ones that lower costs, speed delivery. I guess he prefers the government food lines of Venezuela, or the former Soviet Union. I'm old enough to recall khrushchev's visit to America in the '60s. They took him to a modern grocery store, one found everywhere in the suburbia Kunstler hates. The Soviet dictator was astounded, thought it fake....until he was forced to realize such stores were ubiquitous in our....suburbia.

I think Kunstler thinks he knows what's best for you or me, and that he'd love the force of government to back him. I suspect he mumbles these words to himself as he drifts off to sleep at night, "I'll tell 'em what to eat and where to shit!!!!"
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Who's going to feed all those billions of people in the city? How's the food going to be produced, and moved to the starving masses in the mega-cities? The thing I see missing from the discussion is the fact that a world made by hand cannot support the number of people currently living. The first thing that the hands will be making are graves, there will be billions of graves, dug by hand.

I think this is common knowledge, but somewhat subconscious. It's why all the zombie shows are so popular. The cities are death traps, full of the walking dead.
Three days after the food trucks stop coming into the city, the walkers will head out into the countryside.
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Another mindless Kunstler rant. After preaching the end of oil for decades, Kunstler was mortified that Capitalism - even under Obama's thumb - was able to discover enough oil to make America independent well into the distant future. Yet his rants conti  Read more
Jim C. - 8/11/2017 at 7:57 PM GMT
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