This week's numbers on retail sales make it clear, despite gains over the past three quarters; recovery suffers an anemia that stifles consumer confidence. People are testing the water but not committing to swim. This is the case for retailers at all levels, but especially at big box stores that posted lackluster sales in May, and below expectations according to The International Council of Shopping Centers. May's results follow 9 and.08 percent gains in March and April, respectively.
The question on everyone's mind-analyst and shopper alike-is why? The stimulus program and other recovery efforts have driven unemployment down, however slightly, state and local governments are reporting increased revenues from cost containments and rising tax collections, and the auto industry reported a 19.1 percent gain last month. The stock market has regained a good portion of its 14,000 to 8,000 DJI free fall since late '07, but remains the puerile bell weather of old; given to emotional bloodletting that (much like consumers) forms consensus around confidence in the future.
The US economic engine may be as secure as any the world knows; even bets against it over the years have failed to alter the view. Recent concerns over the Euro's stability and potential to replace the dollar as the world's trading currency make that clear, as Greece buckles under the weight of fiscal mismanagement and they with other Euro nations openly consider a return to national currencies. The global war against terrorism, open wars and occupations that Americans must accept while struggling to survive the worst national and global recession in history, and the draining effect of a failed immigration policy and natural disasters over the past few years, the Louisiana Gulf oil debacle notwithstanding, have shaken consumer and market confidence to the core.
The shuddering reality of it all may be the sign of hope that we are searching for. The question may be "why are consumers not spending," the answers less clear than quick; but the solutions may be within the same core. That is, how did we build (in the first place) what is now broken?
What to do about it
The American economy takes its sustenance from every individual in the land. Whether by the educational process to better equip knowledge workers, even conversations with neighbors, friends, and co-workers, or the political process that excites action, Americans are actualizers at their root. The American economy has an amphibian nature; it can breathe above the water and hold its breath when under it. But unlike its littoral brethren the American economy can breathe while underwater as well. And it does so, one breath at a time.
We are a nation of small businesses and the enterprise ethic to make "something from nothing." This is who we are and how we are. To get back on track we need to reignite that core. We must spend less than we make, join with others in cooperative living arrangements, and shed our attachment to what's ours alone. And we must return to local doings for the majority of our needs. This economy will not be rebuilt by increasing government jobs and transfer payments to non-workers, or stimulus to state and local governments and businesses, unless they learn the practice of prudent money management. But more than anything else we must see the opportunity in everything local. Rebuilding our economy means starting with the foundation of it, and that means going local, especially buying local. Here's why:
Local shops are:
- Nearby, less expensive to get to.
- Convenient to our daily outside needs. We seldom travel 8-10 miles to a market for food.
- Community based, and they return virtually all their revenue to the community you live in. They pay local taxes, support local charities, schools, and sports teams. And they shop locally for most all their business and personal needs. When did you last attend a COC meeting at Wal-Mart or Pet Smart?
- More abundant than chain stores and accommodating of customer needs.
- Service minded with real people in place to direct your shopping experience and answer questions. Try finding things in KMART or Home Depot, which are notoriously short-staffed.
- Able to give shoppers more for their money for all the reasons above.
The American economy is given license by the opportunity in individual enterprise. Our confidence grows most when we see that same opportunity in "the shop around the corner."