Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tchotchke (it means "free trade")


Like a character in an Agatha Christie "Miss Marple" novel -- like Miss Marple herself -- one begins to understand large things that have taken decades to happen. "Buying on credit," Miss Marple muses in the early pages of The Mirror Crack'd, left modern young people (circa 1950) chronically "in want of ready money." Whatever the couple earned was all going to pay debt, and so the young wife Cherry had to go out to work to earn a little extra.

Today, circa now, one walks into a store like the marvelous Pier 1, and sees thousands of dollars' worth of inventory of adorable pretty things. Always seasonal, always changing. I like the glass and bead autumnal wreath above. I like pretty things, don't we all. Only it is all made in China, except the white pumpkins which are grocery-store real, and the problem is there were very few customers in the store to buy any of this. I fear this pattern repeats, endlessly. Even eight years ago, I remember being shocked at how abruptly empty a big box like Kohl's was. Now the emptiness looks normal. Everybody might be at work, I suppose, in the middle of a Tuesday. Or it might be that too many Americans don't have the jobs to give them the disposable income to buy the tchotchke whose manufacture "free trade" sent to China anyway. One begins to understand. And it is not, as Miss Marple self-deprecatingly sighs, only "that one is growing old."

Isn't it ironic that we've been scolded about empty consumerism for decades, and now it's just hard to do, actually? Remember the protest songs about "houses made of ticky-tacky" and the horrors of a "Pleasant Valley Sunday"? When you have one free trade professor among the Marxists and the anti-ticky-tackyites in college, he stands out as a conservative. You wonder how they hired him, if he spouted Adam Smith during his interview .... Later you begin to understand. Just because he defended ordinary people's attraction to nice cheap comforts, and just because he made the point that we don't want a Bill Gates "manufacturing" computers, we want him fulfilling his talents and doing something more, -- doesn't mean he understood the nation's future.

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