Malls

Enjoying the Collapse

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Published on Reddit on May 29, 2016

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Abandoned Malls & Vaporwave

If I wanted to limit myself to posting profoundly insightful things, I'd have to post once a month perhaps. So, today I want to discuss something that simply happens to entertain me. I'm part of an age cohort that happens to remember the nineties, but only very vaguely so. We're the echo-boomers, born from around 1989 until 1992. During that period there was a small but significant spike in birth rates around the Western world. If you were to ask your parents however, they'd insist that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall had nothing to do whatsoever with your birth. So for us, our experience of the late nineties and its culture consist of vague unreliable memories and an abundance of toys. My girlfriend insists that she remembers how it was, despite being two years younger than me, but I struggle to believe her. I think she remembers hearing the echo of that culture in the early '00's, although it could be argued that's what I heard myself as well. Still, I have some memories, particularly, I remember an atmosphere of exuberance.

I personally think that I got an odd version of the 90's and turned into a rather odd person, because of the fact that my father got laid off from the government somewhere in the late 90's. At the time, if you lost your government job, the government would continue paying you a monthly severance package practically equivalent to the salary you used to earn, until you found a new job. The state traditionally takes care of its own people very well here in Europe. My father's job would probably put us in the upper-middle class bracket (if my mom would have a job too, but she didn't), but he hated the job and most of his colleagues. As a result, my father didn't really want to find a new job at first. My parents would earn some money on the side by selling scrap metal or participating in surveys, which was more than enough to get by. Then, after years of unemployment when it did become useful to find some extra money, it proved to be somewhat difficult.

I think this environmental upbringing plays a role in the fact that I'm not very interested in participating in the economy. I was quite proud of the fact that my parents didn't have to work and made no secret of it to the preppy kids I went to junior high school with who'd ask me what my father does, because they grew up with parents that based their self-image on their petty jobs and taught their children to do the same. Personally, I believe I got the best of both world. I have vague memories of economic excesses and did not have to suffer poverty as a result. When I became mature and began to think about the world, civilization began to horrify me, almost driving me into insanity. Now that I am an adult, I woke up from my slumber to realize that civilization has already started to fall apart. The signs are everywhere and even regular people are starting to notice them.

Ted Kaczynski claims in his manifesto that the atmosphere of the nineties was rather critical of progress. That's not what I remember. I remember corporate guru's, paid hundreds of euros an hour to give pep talks based on buzz-words to cubicle-concubines. I remember stock markets that were going to keep growing forever. I remember the end of history, as neoliberal democracy was going to conquer the whole world. I remember sitcom television series, where the main characters suddenly had more money than they knew what to do with and decided to invest it in ridiculous ventures. I remember good television shows and arty farty computer games. I even remember people thinking that diversity would make our nations stronger and allow us to enjoy experiencing exotic cultures. People thought that they had won, that the good times would last forever.

If I was born a few years later, I'd be a rather ignorant person, with no idea of what went wrong and how things used to be and what made people take the poor decisions they took. If I was born a few years earlier, I think I'd be a rather miserable person. I would have grown up in economic growth and become psychologically dependent on it. I'd be stuck somewhere with a petty job and I'd probably be in the prime of my life now and suffering the effects of the economic downturn, watching my hopes for the future fall apart. Never having hope or goals for the future meant I never had to suffer disappointment. Being an echo boomer means that I've never had any experience with the economy as anything other than a beast of burden that has broken its leg and struggled to pull the plow ever since. I don't remember how things used to be before temp-contracts and waiters with Phd's, all that I remember is tasting the fruits we used to harvest in those earlier days. Instead, I've somehow always known that I would have to live through the collapse and that regardless of what I do, I won't be prepared for it.

I can't deny that I'm surprised by how long they have managed to drag the process out. It's something that used to bother me, but I'm beginning to come to terms with it. I used to hope that I would be a teenager during the collapse, one day waking up to a catastrophe of Venezuelan proportions and living as a permanent nomad from that point on. I still think a fast collapse may be better, for a variety of reasons, but for me this situation works too. It's the difference between watching someone paint a landscape and wandering into an art gallery. I will learn to better appreciate things that future generations will take for granted. And believe me, there is plenty to appreciate out here.

Let us start for example, with the fact that you and me get to watch everyone's utopian dreams end in profound humiliation. We get to watch the babyboomers be confronted with the reality that they won't get to live like modern day aristocrats after retiring. We get to watch every technology that was supposed to protect us from the consequences of our own greed fail to deliver. And perhaps most importantly, we get to dance on the corpses of our predecessors. It's fun to watch how the shopping malls are gradually deserted and once busy streets now house only money laundering jewelers and second hand stores kept alive with government subsidies. For future generations, abandoned shopping malls with flickering lights overgrown by vines and mosses are a self-evident part of the landscape. For me, they're orgasmic.

The advertisements once meant to seduce us into consuming now serve as a source of hilarity, as we don't have money left to consume with. This led to perhaps the most beautiful thing of this decade, vaporwave. Vaporwave was made for a generation of people for whom prosperity is an unreliable childhood memory. It's the international anthem of every abandoned mall around the world. Nobody invented vaporwave, it simply emerged spontaneously as a collective hallucination of dementing patients who struggle to remember their childhood. It seems inevitable that capitalism will now aim to mass market this anthem of its own decay, like a cancer patient selling tickets to his own funeral. Some people feel upset about this, but I don't see why you should. It seems that we struggle to understand that there can be life after the peak. The Russians and the Japanese had to learn to accept this, now it's our turn. In America and Western Europe, the post-peak world began in the year 2001, when it became clear that we still had problems. The level of wealth we reached in 1999 will never be experienced again and we should be glad about it. What lies ahead now is a long descent, with bumpy plateaus that prove to be unsustainable and tend to be followed by rapid collapses. As of speaking, the bumpy plateau we've been on since 2009 is rapidly coming to an end.

My recommendation to all of you is to learn how to enjoy the decline. Abandoned buildings are a treasure trove of mysteries and sometimes even wealth. Do not become too physically attached to any place, as everything you see will disappear. Abandoned buildings will be destroyed, even as beautiful wastelands will be filled with new offices and shopping malls as a product of wealthy people's inability to accept that their way of life is coming to an end. When you find yourself mourning the ruins of today that are demolished to hide the decline, remember that the ruins of tomorrow are built today. If you ever doubt whether God loves us, remember that rising CO2 concentrations lower the light compensation point: The amount of sunlight needed for a plant to gain more carbon than it loses. As a result, plants of all kinds will be able to grow in places that would have been barren under our previous climate due to insufficient sunlight. An overpriced McMansion built today will come to house trees growing through its roof, their lives made possible by the abandoned SUV rusting away in the garage. After years of suffering through this mediocrity, what lies ahead for us is more beautiful than what we can begin to imagine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Consumer Economy Becomes Consumptive

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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The Randall Park Mall in Ohio was once the world’s largest, with two million square feet. It has ben rotting down since 2009. (Photo by Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr)

The Randall Park Mall in Ohio was once the world’s largest, with two million square feet. It has ben rotting down since 2009. (Photo by Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr)

First published at The Daily Impact  January 28, 2015

 

The Masters of the Universe like to talk about our “consumer economy,” as if we have discovered the equivalent of the perpetual motion machine: an economy that can prosper while consuming, without having to produce anything except fast food and loan documents. Such an economy has the future of a snake that has swallowed its own tail — that full feeling is not going to last. Such an economy is not a “consumer” economy — that is almost an oxymoron — but a consumptive economy, which is to say one suffering from a wasting disease.

People trapped in a burning building don’t spend much time worrying about whether they have a wasting disease. So it’s understandable that with the American oil revolution imploding and the stock market reeling drunkenly along the edge of a cliff, not much attention is being paid to the spreading dry rot of ordinary American retail business. Still, it’s there.

Familiar brands, friendly to and beloved of the American middle class, are going the way of — well, the way of the American middle class: Sears. J.C. Penney, Kohls, Radio Shack, Target,  and many more — are announcing store closings and layoffs on a regular basis. Sears, perhaps the most iconic, lost $300 million last year and is accelerating its store closings, with 235 now on the chopping block. Masters of the Universe immediately brightened to bullish on Sears because of all the real estate the company now has for sale (remember the thing about the snake, and the full feeling not lasting? Or the guy who is burning the siding from his house in his fireplace to stay warm?).

This wasting disease does not affect only the elderly. Preppy young things such as Wet Seal (teen clothes – bankrupt, 338 stores dark, 3,700 laid off), C. Wonder (preppy stuff, gone, 11 stores), and Aeropostale (75 stores closed, 75 more doomed) are sinking to their knees. Target — okay, more middle-aged than preppy, now — just closed all 133 stores in Canada and laid off 17,000 people. (For a list of all the US stores whose closings in 2015 have so far been announced, go here.)

In addition, the country is becoming littered with closed and rotting shopping centers — abandoned cathedrals of the Consumer Church of America. Once the acme of civilized middle class life, the cultural center-of-mass for two generations, malls are creatures of suburbia, and proliferated with it after World War II. Once built at a rate of 100 per week, there hasn’t been a major new one built in America since 2006. Those that remain have become increasingly irrelevant — and insolvent.

Veteran retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America’s 1,000 or so malls to fail within 15 to 20 years. He predicts that only the 400 upscale shopping centers with anchors like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus will survive. But midmarket malls, he says, are “going, going, gone.”

What is the reason for what is becoming a mass extinction? Did Internet online sales strike like an asteroid and suck all the oxygen out of big box stores? Well, the Internet accounts for about 13% of retail sales now, hardly a crippling blow. Is it, then, a mass migration of people from the suburbs to the center cities, leaving the malls stranded in a depopulated wasteland? Hardly. A sudden, massive change in tastes? No, that’s not it.

Consultant Davidowitz knows the answer. “This isn’t rocket science,”  he says. “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money.”

Oh.

 

***

 

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

The Death Rattle of Retail

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on September 13, 2014

Death-Rattle

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KOHL’S & THE REST OF THE RETAILERS ARE IN DEEP DOO DOO

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”

― Mark Twain

I never believe government manufactured numbers. They will always be adjusted, massaged, and manipulated to achieve a happy ending for the propagandists attempting to control and fleece the sheep. Yesterday, the government produced retail sales numbers for August that were weak and the corporate MSM propaganda machine immediately threw up bold headlines declaring how strong these numbers were. Positive stories were published on the interwebs and Wall Street hack economists were rolled out on CNBC, where the bubble headed bimbos and prostitutes for the status quo like Jim Cramer and Steve Liesman declared the recovery gaining strength. Woo Hoo.

If everyone else is whipping out that credit card, why aren’t you? Credit card debt has reached a new post recession high. They tell me consumer confidence is soaring. Forget about the 92 million working age Americans supposedly not in the labor force. Forget about real household income hovering at 1999 levels. Forget about median household net worth still 30% lower than 2007. Forget about what you see with your own two eyes in malls, strip centers and office parks as you motor around our suburban sprawl empire of debt. Those Store Closing, Space Available, and For Lease signs mean nothing.

I didn’t get a chance to peruse the commerce department drivel until this morning. They put out unadjusted data and adjusted data. Shockingly, the adjusted data is always rosier than the unadjusted data. I wonder why? I can understand the rationale for adjusting month to month data due to holidays and calendar events. But I still don’t trust the adjustments. There should not be a major difference when comparing year over year data. The adjusted data should reflect the same relationship to the unadjusted data on a year over year basis. Well guess what? It appears our friendly government drones may be pumping the current data to give the appearance of recovery. Here are my observations after taking a look at the government propaganda report:

  •  The unadjusted retail sales were only 3.2% higher than last August. Considering government reported inflation of 2%, that is a pretty shitty result. But have no fear. The “ADJUSTED” retail sales for August were 5.0% higher than last August. WTF? Guess which number gets reported to the sheep?
  • Hysterically, your government drones consider lending deadbeats $40,000 for seven years with no money down to drive away with a GM deathtrap SUV as a retail sale. The billions in subprime auto loans led to an 8.8% YoY surge in “ADJUSTED” auto sales. It seems the unadjusted number only went up 5.3%.
  • When you back out the Federal Reserve/Wall Street pumped auto sales, which will ultimately result in billions of written off bad debt (you’ll pick up the tab), unadjusted retail sales were only 2.7% higher than last August. With real inflation of 5% or more, real retail sales are negative on a year over year basis.
  • Despite financing deals of 4 years with no interest, furniture and electronics retail sales were flat versus last August. If there really is a housing recovery and 2.1 million more Americans are employed versus last August how could these discretionary sales be flat, and negative on an inflation adjusted basis?
  • Grocery store sales were up only 2.1% over last year. Even the government is reporting 2.7% food inflation in the last year. We all know it is closer to 10%, so people are actually reducing the amount of food they are buying. That is a sure sign of an economic recovery.
  • Clothing store sales were flat and department store sales were negative versus last August. So much for the back to school storyline. I do believe August is back to school time. The Sears and JC Penney Bataan Death March trudges toward bankruptcy.
  • What did surge was sales at restaurants and bars. They soared by 6.8% versus last August. We already know Darden, Yum Brands and McDonalds have reported dreadful results, so either the government is lying, soaring food prices are being passed on to customers, or people are so depressed by this awesome economic recovery they are drinking themselves into a stupor.

As a side note on the accuracy of this government data, in a previous role at IKEA, when I was a much younger man, I was responsible for filling out the monthly government retail surveys for the Census Bureau. The government drones collecting this data do not check it. They do not require proof that it is right. It is self reported by retailers across the country. Filling out this crap for the government was about as low on my priority list as whale shit. If I was really busy, I’d make the numbers up, scribble them on the form and put it in the mail. The numbers the government are accumulating are crap. And then they massage the crap. And then they publish the crap as if it means something. It’s nothing but crap.

When you see the headlines touting strong retail sales, you need to consider what you are actually seeing in the real world. RadioShack will be filing for bankruptcy within months. Wet Seal will follow. Sears is about two years from a bankruptcy filing. JC Penney’s turnaround is a sham. They continue to lose hundreds of millions every quarter and will be filing for bankruptcy within the next couple years. Target and Wal-Mart continue to post awful sales results and have stopped expanding. And as you drive around in your leased BMW, you see more Space Available signs than operating outlets in every strip center in America.

My anecdotal proof of this relentless slow motion retail trainwreck is twofold. We received our second 30% off discount coupon from Kohl’s in the last three weeks. We are so indifferent to these constant offers that we didn’t even use the first one. I have to wear dress clothes to work every day, so I went over to Kohl’s this morning when they opened at 8:00 am to get some dress shirts and pants.

The parking lot was an oasis of empty spots and there were maybe 5 customers in the entire store. I went to the mens’ section and was shocked to see about two dozen 60% to 80% off racks. There are usually two or three racks. The store was overflowing with summer merchandise. Summer is over. The store should have been overflowing with Fall merchandise. They are clearly in the midst of an inventory disaster. I found excellent dress shirts on the 70% off rack. Everything I bought was at least 50% off, even before my 30% coupon and another $10 menswear coupon.

I live in a relatively upscale suburban area and still this Kohl’s is an absolute disaster. Their gross margin is going to be hammered. Profits are going to implode. Kohl’s has always been a favorite retailer of the middle class. Decent quality at reasonable prices. Their comp store sales were between positive 5% and 15% for years, until the 2008 financial collapse. Their struggles since then coincide with the decline of middle class incomes and the fake jobs recovery. The fact that they are spiraling downward flies in the face of the propaganda being spewed by the government and media.There is no recovery for the average American.

My second data point happened on Thursday. An accident on the Turnpike forced me to take Lincoln Drive and Germantown Pike home from work (1 hour and 55 minutes of agony). I hadn’t taken this route in about six months. Germantown Pike winds through the Chestnut Hill section of Philly. This is an artsy fartsy area with boutique retail, chic outlets, and fancy restaurants. The upper middle class frequents the area. The retail stores were always open, occupied and busy.

Not anymore. I saw dozens of empty storefronts, Space Available, and For Lease signs. The open stores had no customers. The trendy eating establishments had few patrons. Even the yuppie latte drinking areas are beginning to crumble. Every office park I passed had Space Available signs in front. The amount of vacant retail and office space in this country is too vast to comprehend and is being under-reported by the real estate whores whose job it is to rent space. Ignoring the facts and the truth doesn’t change the facts and the truth.

Do you believe the government and the corporate media, or do you believe your own two eyes?

You can ignore the government reported happy talk. When retailers and restaurants report their actual sales and profits, the truth shall be revealed. It will set you free.

Privatization: ACROPOLIS FOR SALE!

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on June 24, 2014

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Snippet:

http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user5/imageroot/2014/06/Bring%20Back%20Humvees.jpg…Even though there is a lot of Hot Breaking Lunacy in the world of Collapse on the Geopolitical level going down now, I wanna take a break from looking at Iraq-no-Phobia Hashtag Diplomacy on Twitshit by Michelle Obama-sama and the latest Jawboning from the Minions of Vlad the Impaler threatening De-Dollarization to a more fundamental topic, the Privatization of Public Assets meme that is underway in more than a few locations now.

Not sure if the Greeks have sold the Parthenon or the Acropolis to Private Investors yet, but just about everything else the Greeks “own” through their Goobermint is on the Auction Block these days. Over in Frogland, I don’t think they sold the Louvre quite yet to some Chinese Art Aficionado Pigmen, but you can buy the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower for the Low, Low Price of $10B on Craig’s List now…

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

Also, don’t miss the recent Collapse Cafe with Gail Tverberg of Our Finite World and Ugo Bardi of Resource Limits.

RE

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