If you have wandered into any of the nation’s leading retail establishments lately, you have experienced first hand the lackluster, even fearful approach to consumer spending that has left your neighborhood Target or Circuit City resembling the decimated wasteland that is left after the demons in the Ark kill everyone but Indy and Marion in the first Raiders. Living in California, I am used to making the drive to Joshua Tree when I need to take in a vast expanse of desert nothingness. Now, I can get the same perspective by standing in a Home Depot. I haven’t seen a long-standing American activity looking so moribund since the last season of According to Jim.
It is sobering, to say the least. Which is why it might be time for the government to stop gnashing their teeth about which multinational bank should get the bailout package, and simply throw the cash at the retail sector. With a little capital, our nation’s stores could finance new and exciting ways to get people back in the holiday shopping groove. Incentives so big, a consumer cannot help but come through the doors ready to buy and get our economy going again. How about a promotion whereby everyone who spends 250 dollars on merchandise gets a job in the store itself? Why, at today’s competitive minimum wage, you can make that 250 dollars back in eight or nine months! And, if they are going to survive, America’s chain stores cannot be afraid to court controversy as long as it gets the bodies through the doors. To that end, why not a free gay marriage voucher to the first five hundred same-sex couples who purchase a plasma screen TV? (Offer not valid in all states.) Or, since every toy store knows how crazy and even violent things can get when parents storm in to vie for the last remaining X-Boxes or Tickle-Me Elmo’s, there is every case to be made for an organized, mixed martial arts event right in the store—let moms and dads throw down with whoever is claiming that they saw the toy first, and charge the rest of the bloodthirsty shopping crowd a fee to watch the carnage ringside. With a little backing and a lot of ingenuity, retailers can make their customers only too happy to part with their cash. But they need a government bailout to finance these perks, and they aren’t going to get it as long as the emphasis keeps getting put on sniveling, whiny little wimps like CitiCorp.
Admittedly, this thinking is counter-intuitive, but when you are in a crisis, it is usually because the old ways are no longer working. In fact, there is something to be said for selecting a traditionally under-represented demographic of society, and giving them the $700 billion bailout. Why not musicians? Easily some of the most deadbeat and irresponsible members of society, given a sudden influx of several hundred thousand dollars apiece, these layabouts would pump untold profits into many of the most crucial elements of our economic system: the pizza industry, the beer industry, the used VW bus industry, the finally chipping in for their portion of the girlfriend’s rent industry and the not-to-be minimized big hair industry.
In fact, while we’re being glib and hypothetical, let’s take it even further. It’s clear that something in the way we operate is broken, and possibly now beyond repair. So, let us all, we the citizens of earth, have the bailout. A fifty trillion dollar fail-out, if you will, that dissolves all the banks and corporations, leaving each of us, the day laborer to the CEO, just enough per person to have a room at the YMCA and enough Top Ramen to last a year or so. Forced to live a more bare bones lifestyle, we will eventually expand outward from the cities in search of more effective subsistence living. In order to adapt, we will have to work together to create community-based collectives, which will prove increasingly easy to do since, owing to the lack of multinationals, global expansion has decreased to the point of not only preserving the last of the cultivatable land but creating more of it—after all, global warming is no longer an issue and the environment is thriving. (Oh, this is because we no longer have nuclear power plants or cars or computers or automation since we can no longer afford them. In fact, we can’t afford to do anything beyond our immediate needs, except this time we finally admitted it!) Essentially, we will have gone backwards, and our new pared-down lifestyles will make a whole new economy emerge, one based on trading goods and services, the return of small family-owned concerns and a self-supporting, village-centered social interaction that places maximum value on education and nurturing. Okay, so I haven’t worked out how we deal with indoor plumbing, electricity or trying not to have to hunt wild Bison every night for dinner, but when you’re planning a Utopian society, you tend to accentuate the positive.
In the end, it’s probably just that every one of us can’t help but think about being bailed out ourselves these days, and it’s hard not to speculate about what we might do if the megabucks ended up in our coffers instead of in those of the people who have already been so irresponsible with their own. In that light, the concept of starting from scratch and seeing if we can get back to something better has a certain ring to it. But, knowing us, we’d screw it up somehow. Maybe the best idea of all is to give the bailout money to the Amish. Largely off the grid already, they are perhaps the most talented and resourceful people living in the United States today. And with the proper funding, they could start teaching the rest of us how to kick it old school.
Photo by jenn jenn