The disappearance of real America - my guest post at Zen Habits

by Paul Michael on 27 August 2008 2 comments

I'm not one for believing in fate or destiny, but the timing on this was spot on. After just finishing a terrfiic documentary called "America Unchained", about one Brit's quest to cross the US without giving any money to "the man," I was asked if I wanted to write a guest post at Zen Habits. Did I? You bet I did. And I had just the topic.

Here's the introduction to whet your appetite. If you like what you read, pop over to the excellent ZenHabits and check it out here .

As a young boy growing up in a gray, rainy seaside town in England, I had a fascination for America; maybe even a love affair. America was the land of opportunity, sure. But it was also vastly different and eccentric (in a good way) from state to state. So when I came to the U.S. around seven years ago, I was somewhat disappointed. The roads were lined as far as the eye could see with signs for fast food chains, corporate-ran hotels and big, bad gas companies. Where was the other America? Had she disappeared?

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Leo at ZenHabits for letting me write a guest post. I read ZenHabits frequently, so being given the chance to write a post was something I jumped on. And hey Leo, my wife's from Guam...gotta love breakfast at Shirley's.

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Robin

I am not sure where to post, here or zenhabits, so I will post in both places :)

I am gIad to see this brought up, but I think this article is poorly framed (and I am dismayed by a lot of the comments on zenhabits). This isn’t nostalgia versus efficiency - this is short term versus long term. Big Box stores have an important advantage over independent small stores: they are so big that they can afford to artificially lower their prices and operate at a loss until they have driven competitors out of business, then they are free to raise their prices right back up. You think they don’t eventually charge what the market will bear?

Secondly, large chains have political clout and are able to get incentives (tax breaks and even tax money) just to come to small towns, where local politicians hope they will bring money and jobs. In Walmart’s case, that has not always turned out the way people hoped.

Final, a poster on zenhabits weirdly claimed that now that America has such a big middle class it can no longer affor the mom and pop shops. The mom and pop shop owners *were* the middle class. The new employees at Walmart are not middle class. Less mom and pops, more Walmarts: the trend is clear, and not exactly in favour of a growing middle class.

Finally, as mentioned, to make things cheap, they hire cheap labour and use cheaply made foreign materials. This makes a literally cheaper product: lesser quality, lesser price. And American money flows out of the country and standards of quality control and employee remuneration get ground down. That is a cost, paid by the community. There are benefits to large chains, and I use them myself, but I don’t devote myself to accumulating the most stuff. I buy quality and I buy less. The qulity items I buy, last. So I paid more in the short term, but gained in the long term. I consume less, because I am beginning to see that everything does have a cost. And cost and value are not only dollar issues.

I wish this article had not framed the debate as “cute old timey America (sadly too expensive) vs. the new efficient Corporate America” but rather: are we interested in saving for the short term or the long term?

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Guest

I'm almost 40 and grew up in small town America. I vividly remember and cherish the memories of my father and I going to the local Mom & Pop convenience store for most everything because a trip to town involved several miles of travel.

You always knew who would be behind the counter - it was the owner - and, most of the time, we would know all of the patrons in the store. My Dad would sit and talk for hours as the owner would slip me a piece of candy here and there.

It was expensive for that time period but not nearly as expensive as a drive to town and the wear and tear on the family vehicle.

Your article made me miss those days. Now that I look back, I can see how much we have lost in the name of progress. It saddens me that some younger Americans in some cities probably don't even know what a Mom & Pop business is. They will never experience the good times, exceptional food and great conversation that I was fortunate enough to experience and, unfortunately, took for granted at the time thinking things would never change.