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At the Retailer's

Written by Louis Even on Monday, 14 February 1944. Posted in In This Age of Plenty (book)

In this age of plenty - Chapter 44

The products are for whom?

Bread, food, are produced to be eaten by those who are hungry. Articles of clothing, shoes, are produced to be worn by those who are in need of them. Wood is provided to build houses for those who do not have them, to heat one's house in winter, to cook all the year round. Cars, trains, airplanes are made to transport people and things.

This can also be expressed knowledgeably by saying that production exists for consumption.

Those who make products are the producers. Those who use them are the consumers.

Not all people are producers. Little children, the sick, the elderly, generally do not work in production. Besides, the more agriculture and industry utilize machines or sophisticated instruments, the fewer the hands that are needed to produce.

But everybody is a consumer. All living human beings, from the cradle to the grave, are consumers. And, as we have just said, it is for the consumers that all production is made. The products must go to the consumers, or else they have no reason to exist.

Where do products meet consumers?

Generally, it is at the retailer's that the product goes from the producer to the consumer.

The store is like a reservoir from which the good products from everywhere pour out. And the men and women who want various products do not need to go through the whole region, to the farmer, the clothing manufacturer, the furniture manufacturer, the woodcutter. They simply go to the store — the specialized store or the general store — and they choose what they want. Everything is grouped together at the retailer's.

As long as the products are on the retailer's shelves, they are still part of production. It is when a product leaves the retailer's shelf to go to the buyer, that it becomes part of consumption.

Therefore it is at the retailer's that one can clearly see if production reaches its end, if the products reach the consumers.

Production and distribution

Production must meet two essential conditions to reach its end:

  1. It must be made.
  2. It must be distributed.

If the products are not made, it is production which is basically at fault. If the products are made, but do not reach the homes, it is the distribution which is at fault.

There again, it is at the retailer's that one can account for both operations: one can see if the products come in, and one can see if the products go out.

If the products are put on the shelves at the retailer's request, the first operation is certainly good: the products are made, since they come just as fast as the retailer orders them.

Then, if the products leave the shelves as they are needed, if they leave the store and go into the homes just as fast as they are needed in the homes, the second operation, distribution, is good.

And the more these two operations run briskly, easily, without a hitch, the more perfected the economic system is. But to consider the matter properly, one must look into the retail stores.

The retailer's counter

In the retail stores, between the shelves and the consumer, is the retailer's counter. This is a piece of furniture which could relate many stories.

The retailer's counter is at the frontier of production, and at the frontier of consumption. Behind the counter, is the production. In front of the counter, is the consumption. And no matter how low the retailer's counter may be, how weak its keeper may be, it is a frontier protected by law. If the consumers try to step over this frontier, they will soon find out!

But it is not the consumers who must cross over the frontier; it is the products. And the products cross over when the consumers present a passport. This passport, everybody knows, is money.

If products are on one side and the money on the other, if the retailer's shelves are well-stocked and if the clients' pockets are well-filled, the over-the-counter activity becomes brisk, to both the retailer's and the buyer's great joy.

But if products are inadequate, if the shelves are empty, or if the money is lacking, if the pockets are empty, the counter is as lifeless as the moon.

A criminal disorder

Empty shelves can only be seen in wartime, because the men who were working to supply products for the shelves are too busy supplying dead bodies for the cemeteries.

In peacetime, the shelves are refilled as soon as one takes something from them; the production is rolling in from all sides; the producers are quarrelling over the privilege of refilling the shelves.

Unfortunately, wallets are not refilled at the same rate as are the shelves. It is in wartime, in front of less loaded shelves, that money comes more liberally to the counter. And in peacetime, with shelves loaded almost to the point of collapsing, wallets are almost empty.

In peacetime, one witnesses these strange sights at the retailer's: Behind the counter, order; in front of the counter, disorder.

Behind the counter, products which are replaced at the retailer's request. In front of the counter, consumers in need of products made for them, but that they can not have. Behind the counter, prices attached to the products, prices which are set exactly in relation to the worth of the products. Prices resulting from an accounting in keeping with facts, from the cost of raw materials to the retailer's legitimate profits.

In front of the counter, there is money to buy, but not consistent with the value of the products. In front of the counter, there is no accounting to keep the purchasing power at the level of the prices of the products.

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