In his books about a future, underpopulated Earth (the other humans have gone to the stars) Simak paints an attractive lifestyle, with each human living in an estate served by robots.
My brother told me that surprisingly that’s not what’s happening as the population falls (and in Portugal it is already clearly and obviously falling, not to mention edging overwhelmingly to the elderly. And no, I have no clue what the statistics say. It’s obvious to anyone on the ground.) Instead people are crowding into the largest cities, and no one seems to be getting very wealthy.
Which would have been obvious hadn’t people in the twentieth century taken the wrong lessons from the wealth and expansion after the Black Plague. You see — being mostly Marxist infused, even those who didn’t realize it — thinkers of the twentieth century thought of more people as more slices needing to be taken out of the common and fixed pie, and therefore fewer people meant more wealth. Only, of course, it was no such thing.
The expansion and growth in both wealth and social equality after the black plague came fromt he fact that a) a lot of people had died suddenly, leaving a lot of goods behind. b) the society before the plague was a near-zero-surplus society, aka, living close to the bone. c) the goods left behind gave enough of a surplus to be able to finance future expansion and innovation.
A contraction of the population by failure to reproduce is not the same thing.
As the US travels the path already trail-blazed by Europe, there will be economic ripples from the majority of people suddenly being middle-aged to old.
There is, you see, a tide in the affairs of men… and women… and definitely children.
When my mom came to visit, 23 years ago, I was in what’s known as the “settling” phase. The kids were growing out of toddlerwood. This meant, within certain limits, we could now have “nice things” described as matching dinner plates (without danger of their being broken), curtains (which didn’t get used for swinging on, Tarzan-style) and bedclothes that weren’t of some cartoon character or other.
My thirties were an age of acquisition (and yes, we’re cheap, so a lot of it from thrift shops.) We needed this, that and the other thing, and a cabinet to store it, and…
So imagine my confusion when mom told me it was time to think of getting rid of stuff, and downsize.
She was wrong — or perhaps simply indulging her habit of assuming we’re in the same place in life — as at that time I had nothing I could downsize except books, and since ebooks weren’t a thing yet, that was a no-go.
But I am reminded, as people ask me what I want for Christmas that I’ve entered that difficult age, when I’m hard to buy for. Oh, sure, I wouldn’t mind another signed Heinlein (I have one, that a friend gave me.) I probably have room for that. (What, no volunteers? <G>) and you know, I do still buy books, though my purchases are often whimsical in fiction and utilitarian in non-fiction (i.e. research, or trade books.)
And we need some furniture, though we’re waiting for it to pop up free on craigslist…
But other than that, we’re not buying much.
And that’s the problem. From somewhere in your mid forties and for the rest of your life, you really don’t buy much. A trinket or even a piece of jewelry has to be amazing to get me to buy it. I DO buy interesting ceramic, particularly in sets of 2 because I can use it for our “date night at home” when the money doesn’t allow going out somewhere. But what I buy is mostly small, targeted and truly unusual or interesting, if that makes sense.
So you can see how a majority of the population going that mode will affect the economics of retail, right? I swear I’ve seen retail change too, and not just in local shops but what’s available on Amazon. It might be my view only, a subconscious highlighting of things I see and don’t see, but it seems to me most small decorative objects aren’t for sale in the quantities they used to be, say in the eighties.
Is my growing impatience with small things to dust becoming universal? Who knows?
Anyway, if you’re in retail in a part of retail that specializes in small, decorative objects, unless they are very unique it is likely you’re in for a hard time.
In addition to that I think there is a sense of glut in small-and-cheap. In the nineties, when catalogues of Chinese manufactured goods hit, I confess we bought a lot. Mostly because we bought stuff like “Small farm animals” in a bag, because our kids liked creating unlikely make-believe situations. My favorite remains the dinosaurs and the army men fighting the invading aliens for possession of the Thomas the Tank Engine railroad. It stayed up for days and had it been a book, it would have contained Ringo-like levels of casualties.
But since then, yes, Chinese manufacturing made a lot of things very cheap. But it also flooded the market on things like “plates” and “small kitchen implement.”
Take it from someone who lives form the secondary market — mostly thrift stores — all of us have got a lot of stuff. Probably more than we need, which is what prompts the desire to simplify.
The other thing driving the desire to simplify is the fact that our young people are loaded with debt. Really loaded with debt, to a level we couldn’t imagine at their age.
This means they’re not buying the “matched set of blah blah” or “that cute scarf” or much of anything. We should be grateful they still seem to buy (or at least subscribe to) books, movies and music. But that’ about it, and usually in e-format for portability.
And it’s hitting further up than “amusing ornaments.” It’s doing things I never expected to see.
The other day I was reading about the general devaluation of antiques. The author had some silly notion it was because millenials eschewed old stuff. I was going “Dude, they’re broke. Also, they’re living with four roommates. They have no space. And if they had money and space they wouldn’t trust their roommates or their roommates kids to actually keep their antiques looking nice.”
But even I have been shocked at the extent of the “free” section in craigslist. What I mean is, most of it these days is new, and often good quality.
Also, the for sale section doesn’t seem to move (and not just for us.)
Which to me implies that furniture sales have to be down. Because it must be only older people who are replacing decor and buying new.
There are probably a ton of other impacts I’m not seeing. People my age don’t tend to care as much for hairstyles. Or clothes. Um….
Are these areas down for good? Well, no demographics could turn around (and I HOPE they do.) But unless there’s another babyboom I doubt that houses will value at the same pace (unless you’re careful to buy in or very near a big city because for some reason falling population makes humans flock into big cities. Herd instinct, maybe.)
I doubt throwing everything in on making the most fashionable clothes evah — unless they’re truly unique and amazing — would be a good idea. Same for furniture and oh, heck, baby items.
Even if we keep our population from “aging” further, if we maintain more or less where we are, it changes everything, long term.
For instance, most shopping will be done online. Why? Because at some point you don’t want to go out for every little thing (trust me.)
And that brings us to the internet and how it has majorly changed… everything, and what’s still in store.