the long view: thrift shop

The 300 richest individuals on Earth now hold more wealth than the poorest 3 billion people.  This stark disparity challenges the claims that a rising tide lifts all boats.  The tide may indeed rise, but some sections of the ocean ride the crest of a tsunami, while everyone else risks being swept away. The two most popular songs of the summer illustrate the problem.  Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” celebrates a casual affluence packaged in sexual allure, while Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”reflects an aesthetic of being hip and cool, while desperately poor.  Beneath these shiny rhythms, the realities of hunger, violence, and displacement linger.

While present-day New York City relies on the production of the range of images between these two videos, the city’s history reveals a grueling, contingent process of economic growth.  From the reliance on cotton to power its textile factories in the nineteenth century to the meat-packing and canning industries that collapsed by 1980, the city adapted in ways that fascinated researchers like Dominique Minars, Stewart Hug, Laura Green, and Lucy Mower who have blogged their initial findings on urban economic development. (links::|| They begin the process of explaining how a multi-trillion dollar city grew from a dependence on agriculture worth approximately 3 billion USD (adjusted for inflation) in 1850.  For comparison,today, the two poorest nations on the planet (Somalia and Congo) are worth 1.7billion and 2.6 billion USD, respectively.

The economic importance of the development process is paramount in southeastern Pennsylvania and especially in Norristown.  Philadelphia has turned its back on industrial innovation as it has sprawled outward into central Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.  Residential expansion drove the economy based on highway and mortgage subsidies at the federal and state levels. Philadelphia held total assets worth approximately 1.2 trillion USD in 2007, compared to New York City’s 2.6 trillion USD. Montgomery County led the metropolitan region in assets. King of Prussia led the county at approximately 12 billion USD (in 2010), but Norristown did better than many suburbs with approximately 7 billion USD (2007).  Moving Norristown away from its current residential emphasis and towards more local and global commercial sites through both new educational initiatives and targeted tax reform would dramatically benefit the entire region.

Next month, this column will feature a theme titled “August for Excellence” exploring many new ideas in these two areas.  You can follow them week by week online through Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag “#August4Excellence”.  Week 1 will focus on spending strategies to help households recognize both good and bad habits.  Week 2 will present a series of savings techniques to enable more financial stability for the readers’ families.  Week 3 will provide a discussion of household and business financing, especially regarding debt reduction.  Week 4 will offer a primer on understanding mutual funds and other securities for lifelong economic stability.  Taken together, these ideas will reduce the impact of displacement, violence, and hunger by using clear, sustainable interventions to improve life across the region.  Adapting a line from “Thrift Shop,” ‘this is gonna be awesome.’


Dr. Walter Greason is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth and author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey.  Questions and comments are welcome on Twitter, Facebook, and by email (

Author: waltergreason1

Public Figure.

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