The woman’s mad, of course, but this is what La Toynbee is suggesting. That department stores be nationalised because they’re nice:
Nothing stops the government taking a share in high-street flagships: this isn’t picking winners expecting any profit but a relatively cheap investment for the state, for an excellent return in social value.
Debenhams, like Woolworths, could have been saved, says Bamfield, whose views are echoed by other retail experts.
As to why they should be saved:
Department stores are far more than shops. They belong to the vanishing public realm: they’re intimate yet convivial places to meet, havens for idle browsing, to use toilets or linger in cafes.
Of course, if people did a little more paying in them rather than pissing the department stores wouldn’t need saving, would they?
It being Polly of course there’re more than just the one economic mistake here. The first and most obvious is that we live in a universe of scarce resources. As Polly knows when we talk about the deficiencies of the NHS but doesn’t seem to grasp when capitalism is involved. That scarcity means that any and every asset needs to be put to good use.
“Good” here meaning, not necessarily the highest valued use, we have wibble room on that, but at least a use that covers the costs of using it that way. So, why are the department stores going bust? Because folks simply won’t spend enough money in them to cover the costs of their existence – that’s why they keep going bust.
Given that the building does still have a positive value we therefore know that other uses do produce more value than they cost. So, we should turn that building to that other value.
The second is this idea that anyone wants a department store. They were a reaction to a particular technology of a particular time. They’re generalists. Which is great and fine when geographic mobility is the determining limit upon what you can buy. Given modern tech – not just the internet but more general mobility – it’s now possible to buy everything from specialists. Why would any of us want to go to a place which agglomerates a determinedly limited stock of any one thing when we can go, individually, to places with the wider ranges?
But then as Polly keeps showing there’s nothing as conservative as a socialist, is there?