Monday, October 25, 2010

99 cents

I had to pick up a couple of things at the 99 cent store. Cheap baskets. I go about once a year. While I was there, I walked around, picked up some soap and gum, batteries, and a box of Mike and Ike’s I don’t need.

While I was there, tooling down the pharmacy aisle (which, to be frank, scares me a little – I was even wary that the name brand sunscreen might be expired or close to it- probably only costs 10 cents to make so it’s probably fine, but nevermind) I saw a much older woman looking at the medications. I suppose this could bum me out, looking for discount medications, etc, at her age, but this is not a diatribe on health care.

Instead, it kind of struck me how we shop as a nation. I’ve known for a while we’re consumers – we’re bred as Americans to consume. Part of that is thinking that something’s wrong with us that can be fixed by buying something – cheap medication, hair care, fake body parts. We sell things and buy things – it’s what we do. But it was the strange feeling I got that no one was there with much of a purpose. People were endlessly browsing, picking up an item or two. It’s clear no one leaves that store empty-handed.

Shopping is certainly a pastime for many. I guess that the 99 cent store feels like it’s when shopping is a drug or compulsion of some sort. I’m sure that’s because most of the stuff really is crap. It’s amazing the amount of non-utilitarian cheap goods that are sold. Knick-knacks, cheaply made plastic objects. It’s like walking through a future garage sale.

Not that I don’t love it.

It just struck me today as some kind of odd place where lost people mill around looking for something to make them feel better. Of course, I suppose you could look at the whole planet that way. If you were cynical. Or more cynical than me.

This morning on the radio I heard a story about the decline of individual fishing as a livelihood lost to industrial fishing, and how the pollution from fertilizers and other industries are polluting the waters to the point that fish are going away in general. Jobs are lost, people can't make a living, and are turning boats into for here ventures for tours and parties - perfect.

And yesterday I heard a story about the marijuana growing economy in Northern California, where an entire town is dependent on the crop. If the laws are changed to legalize it, then the crop will move under the realm of bigger business and the entire town will more than likely go under, since there is really no other industry. There will be no room for individual farmers, because they can't match the price.

All this is just to say that there is free trade, which is great, but our seeming insatiableness and need for the cheapest possible items in as large a quantity as possible mixed with the profit motive looks like it’s causing us some serious problems. Are people willing to make other choices? Is it even possible to go back to some other model that doesn’t include enormous corporate conglomerates controlling our food and goods? I just read that Amazon was charging 9.99 for e-books for the Kindle, taking nearly a 5.00 loss on each book for the sake of the largest market share and future control. Then they were upset when a publisher told them it would not provide them content. They capitulated to raise the price, but put on their website that the publisher had a “monopoly” on their own content, so was forcing Amazon to raise prices. So Amazon can try to force them out of business, but when they actually try to do something about it they’re the bad guys. This is how business is run. I fear we’re actually coming to a place where there will be nothing but large corporate conglomerates that diversify just enough to skirt charges of a monopoly, all in the name of giving us the cheapest goods possible. Soon, we’ll have corporate monarchy – the few in power with the most money, and the rest of us in a servant class - at least those who aren't life coaches. That’s the bleak outcome.

I fear I’ve gotten off my point here a little.

It’s just interesting to watch people at the 99 cent store, and wonder what they actually need. I got what I went in for, and 7 more items. Still under 10 bucks. And I’m sure I’ll go back at some point.

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