Search View Archive

It’s the Shopping Cart, Stupid

Over and over again we hear the standard stump speech place blame on the opponent for anything bad—poverty, school violence, the hole in the ozone, obesity; and meanwhile claim responsibility for anything good—the creation of jobs, the bull market, the saving of sea turtles, and the bright colors of the flag. 

“It was me!”
“No, it was me!”
“His plan stinks!”
“No, her plan stinks!”

These days everyone wants credit for the economy.  The growing, expanding, robust American economy, which we’re told over and over again is so good and so booming that today any hayseed with a nickel can go to Wal-Mart, buy a gas grill, a computer, and a ton of hotdogs, and tomorrow become a millionaire entrepreneur owner of

But who should get the credit for the windfall?  Republicans?  Democrats?  Disenchanted Independents and Registered Non-Voters?  Jim Bob and his tasty downloadable ribs?

If you look behind the sound bite and listen behind the posters, banners, buttons, and bumper-stickers, the true hero for the good economy is…

Laziness.  And the shopping cart.

A little history: As far back as anyone can remember (and when I say anyone, I mean me), when the average person went shopping, the groceries were picked off the shelf, put into the shopping cart, taken out of the shopping cart, paid for, loaded in bags, placed back into the shopping cart, taken out into the parking lot, and unloaded into a car.  The shopping cart was then returned—put back from where it was retrieved—into a line of carts-in-waiting either just inside or just outside the store’s doors. 

Everyone did this.  Not because it was right or wrong or good or bad—it was just what you did.  But look at the economy at that time.  There was a gas line around every corner, you needed a second job, your wife had to go to work, your son was stoned and your daughter was losing her virginity.  No, these were not the salad days; these were the powdered milk days, the Hamburger Helper days, the days of orange juice from concentrate diluted to last a week.

Then some genius American thought, “I’m not taking my cart all the way back to the front of the store.”

It may seem lazy, but it’s the American way.  A child can tell you that.

It’s like “making the bed” and “cleaning the room”—the bed’s just gonna get unmade tonight, the room’s just gonna get messy all over again, and the shopping cart is just gonna be brought back out to the parking lot again, and again, and again.  It’s simply… Sisyphean. 

If only there was an easier (read, lazier; read, economically empowering) way.  And there was.  We tacitly agreed that people cannot be expected to return their carts.  And, bingo-bango, change was in the air like pennies on their way to a wishing well.

To eliminate the 100-foot long push back to the store, engineers are hired to design a plan to convert formerly good parking spots to more easily reached “shopping cart return areas.”  Surveyors are hired to stake out the changes.  Concrete workers and asphalters re-pour and re-pave the lots.  Steamroller operators are back on the job—and cashing a weekly paycheck.  Research scientists are hired to develop weather resistant baring grease, and rust-free welding techniques.  Tap dancers, clowns, and rent-a-cops are employed for grand opening celebrations.  The open market system becomes an open super-market system.  Investments pour into Wall Street.  And to achieve this, all we had to do was not fully return our cart.  We only pushed it to a common, well designed, “return cart here” corral.

After all, this is, for God’s sake, America.  We deserve the best, the easiest.  I mean, who made up the random rule, “it’s nice to return something to where you found it.”  We are not drones; we use our minds.  Once we’ve unloaded our groceries from the cart, we’re finished with it.

We realize that the motivation to get the cart back to the store exists in the next guy, who obviously needs the cart to do his grocery shopping.

We’ll leave our damn cart wherever we damn well please.  And everyone else will just have to deal with it.

At the same time, we don’t deserve to go to a store and park our SUV in a lot cluttered with abandoned shopping carts, do we? Naturally, the markets don’t dare treat us like that.  They hire the youth.  They hire the seniors.  It’s America’s cradle to grave employment plan.  But it works.  And now we can just shove our shopping cart into the flowerbed because some high school drop out and his grandmother have been hired to return it for us.

If one person is lazy, everyone else is irritated.  However, if everyone is lazy, America responds.  America works.  America strengthens.  America prospers. 

Ask yourself when you were better off—now, or in the days when you were returning your own shopping cart?

I say that a strong economy needs innovators and great leaders.  But only a few.  A truly strong economy relies on lazy people.  And, thank God, America has millions. 


Ray Nedzel

Rayman Nedzel lives inside the Beltway, but thinks outside of the box.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT-NOV 2000

All Issues