Structural Borders

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.


Filed under Politics and government

7 responses to “Structural Borders

  1. I too was saddened by Borders demise…it is my favorite store. I love books, it may be my greatest vice, but I just love them. I lam a lifetime learner. I love to buy books for others, I probably bought 60+ last year alone. Funny too, I have always thought of myself as an innovator or at least an early adopter, but with books I am struggling. The touch, the smell, the highlights of a well worn book… Kindle or Nook maybe next year, for now I will relish in my book hoarders heaven!


  2. Barry

    Changing times – Just like what TV did to the radio, computers to typewriters and cars to horse drawn carriages..


  3. Rob

    Geezz… I’m realizing that my brother-in-law… is a writer! Nice piece Jack! Robbit


  4. Greg P.

    I have to admit I didn’t have the appreciation for Borders as you did, I am a Barne’s and Noble guy. In anycase the ereader is the best thing since sliced bread, It enables you to read more easily in places that previously were more difficult due to the “one handed” approach. I also love the fact I can get a new book almost instantly pretty much anywhere.

    Borders reminds me a bit of Digital and their slow embrace of the personal computer age….it was the foundation of their demise. Chin up Jack, we only have another 16 months of this present administration, if the country is still here, It CANNOT happen soon enough.


  5. Gabe P

    I’m not conviced that federal spending on job creation can ever have a net positive effect on the economy. There are three ways that the federal government can raise capital to create jobs. 1) Increased taxation which in effect reduces the amount of disposable income available to the people who then demand fewer products. Private sector employers notice and respond by laying off workers. 2) Increased borrowing which increases the price of lendable funds thus reducing investment in the private sector… again, this means less jobs. 3) Increasing the money supply (quantatative easing.. creating money out of thin air basically) which inevitably leads to inflation and decreases the purchasing power of the dollar… less disposable income again.
    In my opinion the federal government needs to reduce spending and taxes in order to leave income in the hands of individuals who earned it and who can spend it much more efficiently than the government can.


    • It seems to me that the crisis over debt ceiling deadlines is a straw man concerning the ratings agency downgrade of U.S. bonds. What threatens the bond rating is the size of the debt and growing deficit exacerbated by the clear unwillingness or inability of government to control its spending.
      Current compromises on the table are inadequate to the fix the problem.


      • Gabe P

        agreed. whether they raise the limit or not, we still default. if we raise the limit, we will be paying our debts with newly-created, value-less money that we borrow from the Fed which is just like defaulting. the country is bankrupt. piling debt upon debt only papers over the problem temporarily.


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