06 March 2017

The End of the Line ... for RadioShack and HH Gregg

Following last week's post about the demise of Family Christian Stores here, I want to give equal time to the near-end of the line for two additional, venerable retailers.  Go here to read about the situation of RadioShack (which only two years ago went through a Chapter 11 in the now-dashed hope of surviving as a smaller, "leaner" business) and here to read about the impending Chapter 11 of HH Gregg (which likewise is premised on the hope that a smaller version of itself will succeed).

Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase "creative destruction" to describe the inevitable effects of a market economy. Older means of production (and their producers) are quickly replaced with newer, more efficient ones. While satisfying more needs of more people, the industrial-market stage of capitalism disrupted the lives of many others. Charles Sellers describes the initial overthrow of traditional life in America through the course of the 1820's in "The Market Revolution." Michael Sandel describes how Americans reluctantly came to grips (or failed to do so) with the market economy over the  next century in "Democracy's Discontent."

In one sense, what is happening with Family Christian Stores, RadioShack, and HH Gregg is simply the latest chapter in the process of ever-increasing efficiency. From another, deeper perspective the increasing speed of the destruction wrought by late-market capitalism (which no longer meets but instead creates human "needs") reveals the increasing level of dislocation of American society.

While I've posted on the importance of associational forms of life to a flourishing society here, here, and here, this time I want to direct my readers' attentions to an interesting piece by Adam Sandel here. Author of "The Place for Prejudice: A Case for Reasoning Within the World," Sandel's post linked above starts with a series of questions:
What is the place of work in a good life? And how should a society honor work? Neither party has been able to offer a compelling answer to these questions, or even to raise them. Their failure to do so has contributed to working-class support for Trump. The anger with establishment politics that Trump seized upon is not only about job insecurity but a growing sense that traditional blue-collar work is no longer honored as it used to be.
Why does blue-collar (and, I should add, most white-collar work including the practice of law) fail to satisfy? Because purely self-directed work, without a place of respite, renders all of life an unremitting source of competitive uncertainty.

What's missing from the contemporary picture of the unsatisfying life? According to Sandel, the place of the family: "The family and civil society ... form a pair. Unconditional family love and civil recognition based on merit; immediate family unity and individual self-expression in society. [Y]ou cannot fully enjoy one without the other."

Reading all of Sandel's post will reward the effort.

None of my comments on Sandel should be taken to suggest that the doors to Family Christian Stores, RadioShack, or HH Gregg should remain open. As businesses that have adopted the artifice of the corporate form, they have chosen to operate in calculating and unforgiving world of the market. Creatively destructive compentitors and forms of business have eliminated the space for these brick-and-mortar retailers. No tears need be shed for their demise.

Yet for all out hardened sensibilities about the modern form of market life, we must remember and enhance the important forms of non-market life starting with the family.

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