Retailing Chains Caught in a Wave of Bankruptcies

Thanks to Nadia McLaren:


By Michael Barbaro

New York Times

April 15, 2008


The consumer spending slump and tightening credit markets are unleashing a

widening wave of bankruptcies in American retailing, prompting thousands of

store closings that are expected to remake suburban malls and downtown

shopping districts across the country.

Since last fall, eight mostly midsize chains — as diverse as the furniture

store Levitz and the electronics seller Sharper Image — have filed for

bankruptcy protection as they staggered under mounting debt and declining


But the troubles are quickly spreading to bigger national companies, like

Linens ‘n Things, the bedding and furniture retailer with 500 stores in 47

states. It may file for bankruptcy as early as this week, according to

people briefed on the matter.

Even retailers that can avoid bankruptcy are shutting down stores to

preserve cash through what could be a long economic downturn. Over the next

year, Foot Locker said it would close 140 stores, Ann Taylor will start to

shutter 117 and the jeweler Zales will close 100.

The surging cost of necessities has led to a national belt-tightening among

consumers. Figures released on Monday showed that spending on food and

gasoline is crowding out other purchases, leaving people with less to spend

on furniture, clothing and electronics. Consequently, chains specializing in

those goods are proving vulnerable.

Retailing is a business with big ups and downs during the year, and

retailers rely heavily on borrowed money to finance their purchases of

merchandise and even to meet payrolls during slow periods. Yet the nation¹s

banks, struggling with the growing mortgage crisis, have started to balk at

extending new loans, effectively cutting up the retail industry¹s collective

credit cards.

Because retailers rely on a broad network of suppliers, their bankruptcies

are rippling across the economy. The cash-short chains are leaving behind

tens of millions of dollars in unpaid bills to shipping companies, furniture

manufacturers, mall owners and advertising agencies. Many are unlikely to be

paid in full, spreading the economic pain.

When it filed for bankruptcy, Sharper Image owed $6.6 million to United

Parcel Service. The furniture chain Levitz owed Sealy $1.4 million.

In September 2007, Bombay filed for bankruptcy protection. The highest bid

for the company came from liquidation firms, who quickly dismembered the

33-year-old chain. Bombay, which once employed 3,608, now has 20 employees



Sovereign Wealth Funds: Power vs Principle (March 5, 2008)

Authoritarian states use their Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) to undermine US hegemony, argues this openDemocracy article. To protect the Western model of global capitalism, the US seeks to stem the fall of the Dollar. The Gulf States [and China] are offering help by dispensing their SWFs – but investment from these state-owned savings entities is help in disguise. Where nations offer SWF resources to the US, they seek, for better or for worse, to challenge US international influence in the midst of a financial crisis.


If we were not now seeing the meltdown caused by

other absurd theories – such as that Wall Street

would be self-regulating if it were just left

alone – I might reject this article as sour

grapes. But we are now witnessing one of those

moments in history that seem sent to remind us

that neither intelligence nor education offer any shield against folly.


The Economist Has No Clothes

Unscientific assumptions in economic theory are undermining efforts to solve environmental problems

By Robert Nadeau

The 19th-century creators of neoclassical economics-the theory that now

serves as the basis for coordinating activities in the global market

system-are credited with transforming their field into a scientific

discipline. But what is not widely known is that these now legendary

economists-William Stanley Jevons, Léon Walras, Maria Edgeworth and

Vilfredo Pareto-developed their theories by adapting equations from

19th-century physics that eventually became obsolete. Unfortunately, it

is clear that neoclassical economics has also become outdated. The

theory is based on unscientific assumptions that are hindering the

implementation of viable economic solutions for global warming and other

menacing environmental problems.

The physical theory that the creators of neoclassical economics used as

a template was conceived in response to the inability of Newtonian

physics to account for the phenomena of heat, light and electricity. In

1847 German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz formulated the conservation

of energy principle and postulated the existence of a field of conserved

energy that fills all space and unifies these phenomena. Later in the

century James Maxwell, Ludwig Boltzmann and other physicists devised

better explanations for electromagnetism and thermodynamics, but in the

meantime, the economists had borrowed and altered Helmholtz’s equations.

The strategy the economists used was as simple as it was absurd-they

substituted economic variables for physical ones. Utility (a measure of

economic well-being) took the place of energy; the sum of utility and

expenditure replaced potential and kinetic energy. A number of

well-known mathematicians and physicists told the economists that there

was absolutely no basis for making these substitutions. But the

economists ignored such criticisms and proceeded to claim that they had

transformed their field of study into a rigorously mathematical

scientific discipline.

Strangely enough, the origins of neoclassical economics in mid-19th

century physics were forgotten. Subsequent generations of mainstream

economists accepted the claim that this theory is scientific. These

curious developments explain why the mathematical theories used by

mainstream economists are predicated on the following unscientific


* The market system is a closed circular flow between production and

consumption, with no inlets or outlets.

* Natural resources exist in a domain that is separate and distinct

from a closed market system, and the economic value of these

resources can be determined only by the dynamics that operate

within this system.

* The costs of damage to the external natural environment by

economic activities must be treated as costs that lie outside the

closed market system or as costs that cannot be included in the

pricing mechanisms that operate within the system.

* The external resources of nature are largely inexhaustible, and

those that are not can be replaced by other resources or by

technologies that minimize the use of the exhaustible resources or

that rely on other resources.

* There are no biophysical limits to the growth of market systems.

If the environmental crisis did not exist, the fact that neoclassical

economic theory provides a coherent basis for managing economic

activities in market systems could be viewed as sufficient justification

for its widespread applications. But because the crisis does exist, this

theory can no longer be regarded as useful even in pragmatic or

utilitarian terms because it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a

fundamental requirement of any economic theory-the extent to which this

theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally

responsible ways on a worldwide scale. Because neoclassical economics

does not even acknowledge the costs of environmental problems and the

limits to economic growth, it constitutes one of the greatest barriers

to combating climate change and other threats to the planet. It is

imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the

realities of our global system into account.


Peace is not won by those who fiercely guard their

differences but by those who, with open minds and

hearts, seek out connections. Katherine Paterson


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