Phi Beta Cons

Borders R.I.P.

The bankruptcy-liquidation sale of the beloved bookstore chain begins today. I’m feeling nostalgic and a bit sad at the seemingly inevitable disappearance of the beautiful thing that is the brick-and-mortar book megastore.

Rich Lowry writes about Borders in his column today. He takes a more optimistic — if a bit more ruthless — view of the company’s demise:

Nostalgia aside, the extinction of Borders is the very model of a free-market economy at work. The store fell victim to the unyielding injunction of a truly creative economy: “Adapt, or die.” It failed to keep up with evolving technology and shifting consumer preferences, and so has been forced to make way for more adept competitors.

This ruthlessly efficient reallocation of resources took place because Borders wasn’t big or politically connected enough to get a bailout; because its employees didn’t belong to a powerful union favored by the White House; and because it didn’t sell something, such as green energy, deemed worthy of taxpayer support. The upshot of the changes that buried the store, and were allowed to unspool without governmental interference, will be cheaper and more readily available books.

I suppose it’s a good thing that there is no such thing as a Borders bailout. (It’s a sad fact that such a thing has now become so readily conceivable under our current governmental leadership.) And sure, market efficiency is great. But there are tradeoffs. For instance, where will we go to get books when we want them the same day and can’t wait for shipping delays? (Don’t tell me about e-books; I’m talking about paper and ink here.)

Most important, how will we replace the sensual experience of the modern bookstore once it’s gone? Where will we go to experience that delicious olfactorial cocktail of books, coffee, and imitation leather?

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