There are so many shopping and consumer venues we take for granted in today’s economy that were just not even thought of years ago; both a tribute to American entrepreneurism and a lot of discretionary income with the tendency of many Americans to live on the happily extended credit capitalism so often provides.
This article examines that state of affairs in the present crisis.
“What will happen to the dog bakeries? I ask this question, because this line of business (and perhaps many others) escaped my attention for so long. I saw my first one years ago in suburban St. Louis. As one interested in economics, poverty and history, it struck me that dog bakeries represented a perfect symbol for the many “discretionary” business lines that have been established in recent decades in what has been called the consumer economy.
“This discretionary economy consists of businesses for which do not exist in societies with little discretionary income. It includes in its ranks a host of businesses that did not even exist before the last couple of decades, from dog bakeries, to Starbucks, tony cafes, specialized clothing stores and personal fitness centers. While these businesses might have been attractive to the households of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, people just didn’t have enough discretionary income to support them.
“Stores specializing in accessories for the bathroom simply did not exist in the immediate post World War II years. There was little, if anything, akin to a Gap store, a Banana Republic or an Abercrombie and Fitch. Few people had either access to or membership in gyms or personal fitness centers. Gyms in those days were often barebones affairs for roughnecks as opposed to the fashionista hangouts of today.
“Even in the 1960s and 1970s, many of the businesses we take for granted today simply did not exist. There were no Starbucks coffee shops. If you wanted espresso, you looked near a college campus or found an Italian neighborhood. Big box stores specializing in pets had not proliferated. Instead there were small stores crowded with everything from hamsters and turtles to birds and bulldogs. I suspect there were no dog bakeries.
“It would be most difficult to reliably estimate the size of the discretionary economy. Much of the discretionary economy lies embedded in the larger service sector. By 2007, the share of private employment in the nation in services had reached 2.5 times the rate of 1947. Within that vast sector are companies which provide goods and services our forebears lived without like gyms, boutique coffee and dog bakeries.”