Back in the mid-2000s, the U.S. consumer economy was undergoing a serious change. After decades of favoring low prices (even when they promised low quality), consumers began paying more for all sorts of premium features like single-serve packaging and pretty much anything “green” or “organic.” Then came the financial crisis and the drop in consumer demand.
Despite a worse-than-expected holiday season, the Federal Reserve forecast that G.D.P. growth would approach the historic average of about 3 percent in 2013. The economy may be coming back, but the question for many businesses is what the new “normal” looks like. Will shoppers spend as they did in the credit-bubble years? Or has the Great Recession scared them into prolonged stinginess? Early evidence suggests a mix. What is clear is that the big changes are just beginning.
Waste More, Want More
From the 1970s through the 1990s, the dominant retail trend was toward cheap and big: shoppers drove long distances to buy large boxes of everything they needed in bulk. Starting in the last decade, though, this began to change. And the success of products like Tide Pods (premeasured balls of detergent that made Procter & Gamble an estimated $500 million last year) suggest that the era of premium conveniences isn’t going anywhere.
Somewhat counterintuitively, this trend is directly related to the downturn, says John N. Frank, an analyst at Mintel, a market-research firm. Fearful of losing their jobs, millions of workers coped with the crisis by putting in more time at the office — ‘doing at least two people’s jobs,’ Frank says — even if it meant less time to shop for deals. Dollar General saw tremendous growth as a more convenient alternative to Sam’s Club. Duane Reade, now owned by Walgreen, is proving that no block in Manhattan should be without a drugstore that also carries basic grocery items at an upcharge. Frank says he expects that anxious, overtired workers will drive this trend well into this decade, too.
The irony is that clinging to delusion rather than face the necessity of deep cuts in borrow-and-squander budgets will lead to the involuntary reset of the entire system, depriving every vested interest of their share of the swag.
We are living in the United States of Delusion. The delusion has four key sources:
1. We can borrow-print-and-spend our way to prosperity when debt and fiscal/monetary stimulus are yielding ever more marginal returns:
The Dangerous Blindspots of Clueless Keynesians (January 2, 2013) The Keynesian model is a Cargo Cult, mired in a distant, romanticized past where Central Planning, intervention and manipulation were solutions rather than the root of the economy’s fatal disease.
2. The risks of this fatal fiscal delusion are masked by a complicit Mainstream Media and a perception-management, manipulation-dependent Central State and Federal Reserve.
Spoiled Teenager Syndrome (January 3, 2013) Masking risk, cost and consequence creates an illusory world that eventually crashes on the unforgiving rocks of reality.
Is masking risk, cost and consequence a strategy that leads to success? No; it is a pathway to repeated catastrophic failure. What is the Central Planning strategy being pursued by our Central State and the Federal Reserve? Masking risk, cost and consequence.