Online Shopping, Blessing or Curse?


This lovely picture is inserted to cheer me up, as it was sent to me by Louis, created with the Applepen I bought him for his birthday, knew he wanted it a lot, but me hesitant with thoughts of “expensive technology: Creative? Apple? Current Fad?- you know the feeling.

Say it again. TRUST the good bits, they are out there. In the meantime, rant a bit about Money, again, as follows.

Obviously retail, buying habits etc. are changing. Amazon and other online shopping, is a blessing to those of us who live on this island, where the boats were cancelled yesterday and this morning [quite rightly, I would not have gone anywhere on a boat with the seas and wind the way they were]. Obviously, or maybe it is not so obvious, I wish they paid their warehouse people more and sucked up profits less.

Myth 1. Oh dear oh dear if we pay workers more the goods will cost you more… well its not exactly a myth all too true but not There-is-No-Alternative TINA true, just this is the way the system works true… shareholders money comes first… they must not lose … or the whole country economy will go down to Hades or somewhere … now that’s the myth. We could have a different system, including online shopping, try e.g. Wealth of the Commons, or Transition Network.

Myth 2. Online retailing is ruining much loved shops, local and corporate, like Sears. [In my mind, this is US equivalent of Mr. Selfridge, made popular in TV series, enterprising self-made human flawed guy makes good for everyone … etc etc …]. Not my research, I came across this piece about Toys R Us and Sears, both gone, and it is a good clear account of how this part of the financial industry system really works.

“The popular story is that both companies fell victim to competition from online retailers. Don’t believe it.

In the case of Sears, a former Goldman Sachs banker named Eddie Lampert merged the company with Kmart. He loaded both up with debt and used the borrowed money to buy back the company’s stock, which drove the price higher and made him rich. His hedge fund also made millions off of commissions and fees for its loans to Sears. Now, the company is bankrupt and the job losses could total well more than 200,000 – but Lampart’s net worth is around $2 billion.5

The death of Toys R Us started with a group of hedge funds and private equity firms – practically the same thing these days – buying the company with borrowed money and then pushing the debt onto the company itself. The hedge funds made money while the company spent all its profits paying interest. Despite sales remaining steady, Toys R Us sunk deeper into debt.6

A few hedge funds bought that debt – in some cases, for less than 50 cents on the dollar – and demanded the company pay in full. As Toys R Us teetered, they decided that they would make more money by liquidating the company than by going into bankruptcy or making a sale that would save jobs.”

This is when I wish I had been a politician, but then I would probably have found myself sucked into some other sort of mindset, as even the ‘good guys’ seem to be. I have to remind myself that my ‘bad guys’ might just be good guys to themselves and their supporters. Or something, the sort of “look after their own” something, survive in a competition sort of something, another myth, every bit of nature we learn about has symbiosis and co-operation in it, and death, necessary in order that some survive. That’s the myth, the myth of the market, that “survival of the fittest” means competition for survival, sorry not so, it is balance of productivity and resources that is fit for survival, it is not about winners and losers.

I recently re-read Dorothy Dunnett’s wonderful historical novels, the eight books of the Niccolo series.  A while ago I read a great though almost incomprehensible series of books on historical fiction by Neal Stephenson, the Baroque Cycle. They are both a romp around the world of a few centuries ago, the hero and heroine, masters of financial and political intrigue, using the technology, and showing their humanity, flaws and love.

The books are brilliant, I am gobsmacked by these writers, their knowledge, their creativity, how they put such an incredible world in my hands, for my information and entertainment. BUT BUT in these stories, not a flaw of the story, just an observation: we can hear exactly the same processes as the “Death of Sears” above. The process of getting something by cleverness is turned into Romance – it is a romance – hero and heroine from poor beginnings make good. They learn to play the system, and so are part of it.

So online shopping is no more a curse that Niccolo’s dye works making blue cloth that people loved and wanted, no more a blessing than Stephenson’s story of the birth of computing, that starts off with a witch hanging. Online is just a means of access to goods that someone else has created or produced, that we happen to have available to us.

Like Louis’ picture. It is online, it cheers me up, contact with a real person who spent some time making something.

The hedge funds story, well, that is about MONEY making. Is it worth it? The financial industries are pretty much just what they say they are: Money Makers. They don’t actually make anything that is a “good”. Nothing is grown, nothing is served, just money amassed. Like Croesus or Scrooge, the money makers have forgotten the reasons humans invented money in the first place, it was meant to be a way we could share out what we had grown, made, wanted, needed – with an idea, like a stamp, added on so we could trust the sharing, well enough.

Do we need money to thrive? Well yes, but enough, not more than enough. We could say necessary but not sufficient. What else is necessary? I am probably watching too many you-tubes but that is another bit of creative technology that can be either useless or very worthwhile, helpful. Lots of people share them, free. Try this one about thriving young people, thriving everyone.

Guess what: ideas worth valuing are: Empathy, Gratitude, Forgiveness and Humility. If you still have lots of time, read Niccolo or the Baroque Cycle. Personally, I seem to have more difficulty with the last two, still learning, get there now and again, this person helped. So does writing, so thanks for reading.

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