As much as I despise retail shopping, I have two guilty pleasures in this regard: hardware stores and book stores, both of which can hook me for as long as my wife will tolerate. She is far more patient in book stores because we share the attachment. In the romantic comedy, “You’ve Got Mail”, Tom Hank’s mega corporate bookstore puts Meg Ryan’s “The Shop Around The Corner” out of business. Like its 1940 forbear, Tom and Meg fall in love as e-pen pals, just as Jimmy Stuart and Margaret Sullavan fell in love in the original movie as snail mail correspondents. In the real world, however, so many shops around so many corners felt the axe when Borders or Barnes & Noble set up down the street with few regrets from the big company. I have fond memories among the shelves of those specialty stores.
Friday, Borders itself failed to emerge from last winter’s Chapter 11, and all their stores began final liquidation sales. E-readers, Amazon, the expense of running brick and mortar stores and the intense schedules of harried shoppers spending more of our discretionary income on the internet were too much to overcome. Their late entry into e-commerce, unlike Amazon and B&N, left Borders laboring to catch up, and they never did.
Will the eccentric bibliophiles who tend to staff even the corporate stores slide off into impracticality and the ranks of structural unemployment? I most ardently hope not. We will be culturally poorer for the loss. Along with librarians, these engaging, lovely folks are resources that enrich our lives. In our home, we buy, borrow and read fifty or more books a year, and add another dozen or more as gifts. How gloomy it will be to bid farewell to pleasant browsing of friendly books among kindred spirits. As regular buyers of books on line (some from Borders) and an ardent e-reader user, I feel a bit complicit in their obsolescence.
If these gentle souls join typewriter repairers, wagon wheelwrights and many who once worked in our factories in that most intractable category of structural unemployment, they will add to an increasingly troublesome segment. Estimates are that upwards of 8 points of the 9.2 points of unemployment rate consist of those who need work but have skills which are necessary less and less frequently. Following the recent financial crisis, the United States added double the percentage of its citizens to the unemployed than any other Western country. Some of these were cyclical, albeit long term, in construction and housing related categories, but an alarmingly large group cannot find work doing jobs in which they were once so capable because those jobs have been displaced by technological advance or off shore competition. They are structurally unemployed.
One of the most distressing aspects of the persistent high jobless rate is the long duration laid off workers spend looking and hoping and looking some more. Some simply give up; others acclimate to unemployment and extended benefits. They are discouraged and fenced in by limited or specialized (and increasingly less needed) skills in the accelerating pace of change in business. That curve is likely to continue to steepen. The percentage increase of structural unemployment among those looking for work for more than twenty six weeks is far greater than the increase in structural unemployment for those who have found jobs in less time.
The current administration has done precious little to address this crisis. New manufacturing and new products require substantial capital investment, which is indispensable to generate competitive productivity. This expense will create well paying jobs, or at least jobs which deliver sustainable income. The ruinously expensive and feckless efforts of the Obama administration focus on quick fix, unshovel ready jobs and fattening the minions of government to enforce and ladle on job killing regulations.
Misnamed health care reform and thousands of pages of new regulations to implement an ideological agenda bring about burdens crushing growth in private business. The long term, serious work of encouraging cash investment waits largely ignored. Political posturing, spin, hissy fit press conferences and blame placing frustrate those who would innovate and those who sit and wait.
We will persist, however, in hope and to read and to learn. My wife, Rita, remains resolutely faithful to paper and bound books; many, however, are dropped on the back porch by FedEx. She gets regular thank you cards from Amazon. As is my habit, I stockpile a small treasury of books to enjoy on my vacation in late August. Already three are set aside with great anticipation:
ready to read on my Nook.