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The Lights Are Going Out, In The Shopping Malls Of The West
In a city that I sometimes visit, I noticed, the other day, more and more shuttered shops and empty storefronts.. The bakery I used to stop in, the one that was founded in 1942 by two refugees -- Eva Lindemann and Ingrid Weierstrass -- the one famous for its sacher tortes and its transcendent pies -- has at long last closed, without so much as a by-your-leave.
And perhaps you, too, remember that celebrated bookstore, the one founded in 1912, and that continued to stock antiquarian and used books, and then finally, in the late 1960s, decided to stock only glossy new ones, and then gave much of the store over to paperbacks, and then finally allowed into its midst all kinds of strange new books, arranged on its once-dignified shelves under such categories as "Wellness" and "Sex and Relationships" and "Self-Help" and "Grieving" --cateogries that repelled the bookish, and sullied by proximity the chaste denizens of those bookshelves that still bore such old-fashioned titles as "English Poetry" and "American History" and "Greek Philosophy."
In the last few years, under new management, the bookstore had admitted into its midst a whole section of "TEST PREP" books, each more maddeningly expensive than the next, and this line had taken over more and more space. These all had an immediate goal, and could be dispensed with, would be dispensed with, as soon as that goal was met -- the goal of making you or, if you were old enough, your child. ready to take. and able to pass, whatever exam might be looming up -- the PSAT, the SAT, the LSAT, the GMAT and the GSAT an exam in large part multiply-choiced, but also sometimes requiring a bite-sized essay (four paragraphs is more than enough, time's up, turn in your exams please) or two just to see if you could indeed write an English sentence. And if you read and re-read Professors Princeton and Kaplan with attention, then you would pass those dangers, you would be admitted to not only to your Safety School, but even, just possibly, to your Reach or Stretch ("it's a stretch") School, and as a consequence, you would lead a rich and fulfilling life. But even that bookstore,was no longer. Had Professors P. and K. gone on-line? Had the bookstore done so? Had I missed something?
Next door, where the cafe had once been, another "For Rent" sign on the window, and beyond that, an empty storefront where the seemingly indestructible family-owned hardware store had been, since 1923. And ditto for the Tibetan restaurant., but in its place was a Tax Preparation office, possibly there on a short-term lease, until, say, May 1. And so it went, all the old familiar faces were gone, it turned out, save for one: the Law Offices of Kafka, Kafka, Kaufman, and Kafka. No doubt the explanation for this stolid survivor could be found in the fact that during hard times, and these particular hard times were, one sensed, a portent of the sauve-qui-peut century to come, desires and resentments that once would have merely been endured, and not have given rise to lawsuits, now so often did. And given the great woe, and little weal, that so often results from contending in court, one can hardly take comfort in this development..Few of those who have even once been ensnared in the law's delay -- it breaks, in jarndycian frashion, all the spokes and fellies of the wheel of fortune, will agree that an update of the the Italian folk-phrase matto da legare might be modified thus to fit the modern case: matto da litigare.
Yes, the shops are being shuttered, the doors are closing, the lights are going out, along the boulevards, down the streets, through the shopping malls of the West. Perhaps deregulation did not take sufficient account of the most ferocious of the Seven Deadlies. Perhaps globalization in the rich and advanced world focussed too much on the far splendors, and not enough on the near miseries, of comparative advantage. Would not Ricardo himself , were he alive, fail to recognize that capital is mobile and labor is not, and that the race to the bottom, all the way to China and Peru, would undercut the Western worker, and would he not finally exclaim "that's not what I meant, not what I meant at all" and possibly even ask for a do-over?
Meanwhile, the mosques go up, and the seas rise, and the national debts mount, and the nations do not know where to put their feet or hands.