Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Consumerist Manifesto -- Nothing to Lose But Your Chain Stores

Saturday's Weekend Edition features one of those pieces that makes me shake my head. Virginia Postrel, a "style" editor and contributor to the Atlantic Monthly is brought on because she has written an essay in that magazine called "In Praise of Chain Stores." Talking about chain stores actually could be an informative topic. There is an interesting history to chain stores and they probably aren't going away, and they contribute to some serious problems such as traffic congestion (local relevance), sweat shop globalization, depressed wages and benefits, outflow of capital, environmental sprawl problems (and creative solutions) , and frankly the "just plain ugly" factor (take a look at beautiful Chandler, AZ mentioned in Postrel's essay).

Instead of any sort of thoughtful discussion of these issues, Postrel seems to have been brought on for her achievement of reducing the complexities of this topic to one critique--"The problem with chain stores is they make every place seem the same, that America is too homogeneous, you can’t tell what city you’re in...." and then distorting this critique with her own fabricated and silly reason for it--"...a lot of the based on the idea that we want places to be exotic when we go to them, we want them to have local color, and we want that local color to hit us over the head..."

And her main argument in favor of chain stores is simply that they bring more varieties of more stuff into more towns than any local businesses could ever do! More stuff? More variety? That's it?

Scott Simon does at least ask, "How do you react to the argument…that good smaller scale, distinctive businesses have been just driven out of business by chain stores?" But, Postrel is let off by just saying that "really well run local businesses can compete well" against chains. Of course she is not asked to provide any evidence for this, though there is evidence to the contrary. It is worth noting how rarely someone who is touting a position that embraces the status quo is challenged to provide any factual evidence for their views, whereas those who challenge prevailing systems are more rigorously challenged.

1 comment:

larry said...

Status Quo = NPR. They're pushing holiday shopping right now. But actually, I think the catalogue houses (I know, we're talking chain stores here) have had an immense impact on our history. Originally, Sears was a place to get your chicks to start your chicken flock, and your honey bees. It brought great resources to very rural places, and lots of out-house paper. Of course, this would not have been possible without the much maligned US POstal Service. Right now, my favorite catalogue house is McMaster-Carr.