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Polly Wants To Nationalise Department Stores

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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?

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10 COMMENTS

  1. I’d be very surprised if Polly has spent any of her money in any department store other than Harrod’s, Harvey Nichols or Peter Jones.

  2. Thank you for bring Ms Toynbee’s piece to my attention. It just confirms the sad fate of satirists: they cannot improve on the original. Polly’s article is a collector’s piece. I particularly enjoyed “Their closure feels like losing a park, a library, an arts or leisure centre” (Maybe she had shares in Debenhams?)

  3. The Joplings department store in Sunderland is now student apartments, and much the better for the conversion despite the difficulties. I do wonder if part of the premises are being used by women of negotiable virtue. I hope so. That would really hurt Polly, who to be fair could negotiate some saucy exchange of her own with a certain segment, but she is revulsed by other people actually doing for money what some people do for free.

  4. Seems to me that Polly’s argument reads more like a plea to enabling her preferences

    Out in the real world, ie outside west London, department stores are seen as anachronisms

  5. The suggestion that Debenhams stores were some sort of social haven is utterly deranged. In my hometown, the Debenhams store replaced an independent department store which was once indeed rather grand and a pleasant place to visit. However, as Debenhams, it paired a cheap and shoddy internal fit out with mundane goods.

  6. @ Mark
    An acquaintance (friendly one but I never knew him long enough or well enough to justify describing him as a friend) bought shares in Gum on a 0.5x PER …

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