Tonight’s NPR news carried the story from Butte, Montana, that the JCPenney store there is closing in early May. Apparently 30+ such local JCPenney retail outlets are doomed.
The Mall manager being interviewed responded that it saddened her that an iconic store was closing and that Penneys had always been the ‘working man’s’ store. It was where, she said, people had gone for new shoes and clothing, the kinds of things that working people buy seasonally for their family members. Profitability was the issue, the manager said, not sales. She disputed the figures. Well, maybe not the figures but the forces behind the figures. Yes, she agreed, profitability may have been down, but it was in a very bad economic time, with building repairs and a change of managers at the store, all of which should be taken into account, she thought.
It is difficult for a community, or 30+ communities, to lose several dozen jobs and the kind of store that generations have called their own. But the real concern is a bit deeper than the loss of an iconic retailer and a handful of jobs. This plunge in profitability is the result of there being fewer iconic ‘working men/women’ to shop at iconic stores.
We are in a very new economy in which the number of ‘working men/women’ drops disastrously year by year. Income inequality is resulting in a two-tiered society, those with most of the income and the other 98% of us. JCPenney is losing ground because the 2% never did shop there and the rest of us have less purchasing power than we did not that many years ago.
The closing of JCPenney stores is but another canary in the coal mine signaling the demise of the middle class.
No, the answer is not to create more jobs because the current state of our capitalist economy cannot produce enough jobs. The surplus capital accumulated by the 2% is not being used to ‘create jobs.’ It is being used to grow more wealth by investing not in productivity, but in financial ‘products’ that are, at best, sophisticaled gambling or ponzi schemes.
There are no more, or very few, natural resources left to exploit cheaply on this beleagured planet. The capitalist with surplus does not want to invest in risky expensive development of natural resources to actually produce something, s/he wants to make more money. Wealth is the goal of capitalism in the 21st century; we left productivity behind as a capitalist goal in the mid-20th century.
Corporations own our legislators in both State and Nation. Benefit to capital investment is protected as lobbyists pay for reduction in corporate taxes and the risk of investment is socialized by having us all, through our Government, offering bail-outs.
Supposing that ‘it will all work out’ is naive as nothing short of revolution can bring about the change that is necessary.