International Economics

Ikea: Libertarian Utopia?

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That's what entertaining New York Post film reviewer Kyle Smith argued this weekend. A snippet, complete with Swedish characters FUBARred by the translation to Internetese:

Libertarians should be F„rgglad. I'm not being Sn„rtig when I say IKEA isn't soft cushiony socialism; it's Wal-Mart in Democrat drag.

Outsourcing? IKEA invented it. In the 1960s, when Sweden's furniture cartel tried to drive it out of business by organizing a boycott of suppliers, IKEA went to Poland for materials. Today it outsources its customers, sending us on free buses from Manhattan to Elizabeth, NJ.

Taxes? IKEA hates them. At the onshore tax haven underneath Newark Airport's flight patterns, you pay half—3.5 percent—of the typical New Jersey tax rate. Kamprad is a tax refugee living in Switzerland, not Sweden, and the complicated corporate structure of IKEA, which is run by a taxman-disorienting array of holding companies, drives down its Eurotaxes.

Imagine what would happen if Macy's were subjected to a "ruthless" business model, i.e. one that put customers ahead of job creation. Macy's is run like a Soviet train station, where one guy sells your ticket, another guy inspects it, a third guy tears it, and nobody can tell you what train goes where. The last time I was in Macy's to test-drive a sofa, four different sales gnats came buzzing around me in search of a commission. There were three customers.

Fire the hard-sellers, lower the price of the sofa by $200 and you've got IKEA, where most items can simply be picked up and rolled out the door. At the entrance there is a sign: "No one will bother you." Five words, one libertarian ideal.

Whole thing here. I for one despise my Swedish overlords—I always feel like I'm in one of those endless cornfield mazes, unable to find my way out, only it's swollen with meandering humanity and the sickly sweet smell of meatball stroganoff—but I say that while typing on my freshly Ikea'd desk, next to my matching new Ikea bookshelf and file cabinet, all purchased for less than $200.

NEXT: No One Says No to the Taxman

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  1. I lived about a mile from an IKEA when I was at school in Atlanta. Their $1.00 breakfasts also made them college studentopia’s in addition.

  2. People buy furniture from department stores? Why?

    A girlfriend’s dead cat may have played a pivitol role in a redesign of Ikea dressers some years ago. It was a surreal experience.

    We come home to find that an Ikea dresser has falleen over over on top of cat, killing it. Never really liked that cat all too much, but the girlfriend did, so I called Ikea and talked to some Swede, Lars, I think. Conversation starts calm, ends with screaming, but I get a free dresser in the end.

    About 6-9 months later, I discover that the very smooth plastic runners that Ikea used in the dressers, which I attributed to the toppling of the dresser (cat is on top, jumps off, pushing dresser back, which then rocks forward onto crushed carpet, drawers on *very* slick runners fly open and cause center of gravity to shift, heavy jar full of change aids in toppling, cat gets caught in open drawer and is crushed, the end) now have ridges, making them less easy to open.

    I had to bury the cat in my backyard, ruining a brand-new leather jacket in the process. The second the shovel went into the ground, like a bad movie, the skies opened with a cold October rain; the jacket never fit right after that. Unlike the cat, I really liked that jacket.

  3. Unlike the cat, I really liked that jacket.

    Why didn’t the cat like the jacket?

  4. Here’s what happened when Ikea broke the ‘hard sell’ furniture cartel in North London. Its now much calmer: just a few crafty elbows sticking out at the ketchup dispensers by the hotdog stand.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4252421.stm

  5. Like Wal-Mart, Ikea gets its share of abuse. It’s Pretentious! It’s cheap crap! It’s “stuuuudent” furniture! And my favorite, It’s so European! In other words: people who don’t like the aesthetics or need twelve Wal-Mart Associates to find a lampshade or people who just don’t want to assemble things on their own just don’t like Ikea. Or they don’t “get” it and have to come up with some reason why, usually involving some comments about the shoppers.

    But just as Wal-Mart brought low prices (and those really icky, low-class crowds of shoppers,) Ikea brought low-priced style. There were a few stores (like Denmarket, and I’m sure there were others) that sold Ikea kinds and prices of furniture, but not at the scale of Ikea. Now Target has some Ikea in it, and that’s a good thing.

    And I think it’s best to be left alone, which is why I’ve always resented my Mother’s and Wal-Mart’s insistence that I be happy whenever I’m around them. Fucking let me eat or shop and stop pestering me with bullshit, people!

  6. Ikea furniture is garbage. However, it is so cheap that it makes sense. If it wasn’t so cheap they would fail, but they hit the sweet spot.

    I am a furniture snob because I can get excellent, top-quality furniture at cost from my uncle.

  7. Where you going with this, Ikea boy?

  8. I for one despise my Swedish overlords — I always feel like I’m in one of those endless cornfield mazes, unable to find my way out, only it’s swollen with meandering humanity and the sickly sweet smell of meatball stroganoff — but I say that while typing on my freshly Ikea’d desk, next to my matching new Ikea bookshelf and file cabinet, all purchased for less than $200.

    I also despise my Swedish overlords, and I’m not using any IKEA furniture as I type this. Even if I were willing to endure their horrible customer service again, which I’m not, I doubt I’d have any better luck making sense of the incomprehensible cartoons they call “assembly instructions” if I were to manage to get their crap out of the store and into my home.

  9. Ikea is part of the capitalist cabal that is a-Ok with lefties. Together with Apple, Whole Foods and Target, they get a free pass from anti-capitalists (because anti-capitalists have got to shop somewhere).

  10. When the cat died, was there blood on the (Ikea?) rug?

  11. No article about Ikea is complete without a link to the Ikea Walkthrough.

  12. Wait, Target is Officially Lefty Certified too? I never got the vibe from them that I get from Apple or Whole Foods.

  13. Silly joke I heard this weekend:

    What happened to Wal-Mart when it opened in Iraq?

    It became a Target.

  14. I always found IKEA kitchen and office furniture to be pretty cool. Their bedroom and living room stuff looks like something out of a 1970s doctor’s office waiting room. Ugly, uncomfortable crap. They seem to be completely incapable of producing any sort of flompable couch. I can’t believe anyone buys that crap for any reason other than to try to look cooler than they are.

  15. When the cat died, was there blood on the (Ikea?) rug?

    Nah. Clean kill.

  16. I’d say something about IKEA, but I have no dog in this hunt. Some of their furn’s okay, some blows. I just like making fun of the goofy names. I mean, really, a Muck box? Plus, I get to see every conceivable nationality in the greater Houston metro while shopping there. Capitalism really does bring the world together, especially if the world needs cheap bookcases.

  17. I love Ikea myself.

    I move around a lot, I like to change countries ever 2~3 years, and I can always outfit my new apartment from Ikea cheaper than anywhere else.

    Fire all worthless employees, let me browse in peace, and give me a great discount — that’s the way it should be.

    For quality, it’s average, I wouldn’t call it crap, you can get a few years out of it easily. For that price, you won’t find better. If you want better, go pay more at other places.

  18. Mo: you talk about “anti-capitalist” lefties, then cite to a list of corporations they support. You probably put this down to “hypocrisy” instead of questioning your own belief that these people are “anti-capitalist.” Sad.

  19. Why didn’t the cat like the jacket?

    Cats don’t wear clothes, cats don’t like clothes. What do you think they have claws for, other than to ruin clothes?

  20. Many moons ago I had a super cheap IKEA entertainment center. It got to the point, after a couple of years, where it was sagging and I wanted to get rid of it. It was pretty big and cumbersome though.

    I then had an idea of how I could get rid of it easily. As it was on the second floor of the house I was living in. I just tossed the thing off the balcony. After shattering into a hundred pieces, the entertainment center fit into my garbage can.

  21. people who don’t like the aesthetics or need twelve Wal-Mart Associates to find a lampshade

    Anybody who can herd a dozen Walmart associates together in one place should made Ambassador to Iraq.

  22. fwiw, there is some higher priced stuff at IKEA. I recently bought a condo and got some very nice stuff from there. You pay a bit more for it, but it seems to be quite a bit more sturdy. The cheapo stuff is made of particle board and is meant to be disposable. Their solid wood furniture is as good as anything else I’ve seen and it is still a good price.

  23. My general rule when it comes to Ikea: If I’m going to sit on it, don’t buy it from them. No couches, no lounge chairs, and DEFINITELY no office chairs. However, I’ve purchased an office desk, some bookshelves, and an entertainment center from Ikea that I’m quite happy with.

    The cartoon guy in their “instructions” really needs his own TV series.

  24. Agree with Jesse regarding customer service at Ikea, and with mk regarding quality.

  25. I really wasn’t all that interested in Ikea until Fight Club. Anything those whiny wannabe-hipsters hated had to be worth checking out.

    Gotta say I love my Poang.

  26. I think Noisewater has it about right. Some of their desks and tables and shrunks and the like are pretty cool. But IKEA furniture sucks to sit on. Distinctly unflompable.

  27. for the price, you can’t beat their combination of convenience and level of quality. even if i had a wife and kids and owned a house, i would still get 1/2 my stuff there – good desks, plus, where else would i have found a perfectly sized (tiny) couch for my tiny nyc apartment? a place isn’t a home until it contains a couch.

  28. lunchstealer,

    I’ve got a Poang also and enjoy it too. Its nice to read magazines in.

  29. Some of their desks and tables and shrunks and the like are pretty cool.

    Shrunks?

    Distinctly unflompable.

    Word of the Day!

  30. Distinctly unflompable is exactly how I would describe Hillary.

  31. We recently bought an IKEA Rug… only when we got home we found out that it’s IKEA name was [sometething like] Ayna Rand… someone at IKEA does have a sense of humor.

  32. Shrunks?

    RC a Shrunk is a big ass European wall unit. Most flats and houses in Europe do not have closets. So, you buy huge wall storage cabinets. Some of them are huge and are like a foot thick, eight feet high and ten or more feet long and contain everything from areas to hang clothes to dresser drawers. They are really a pretty cool invention.

  33. Most flats and houses in Europe do not have closets.

    I vaguely recall hearing that, at one time, property taxes were imposed on houses on the basis of how many rooms they had. Closet = room, so, no closets.

    Probably an urban legend, but . . .

  34. an IKEA Rug…it’s name was [sometething like] Ayna Rand…

    Shortly thereafter the rug raped the coffee table.

  35. Lost-in-Translation,
    You aren’t by any chance a Georgia Tech alumnus, are you?

  36. economist

    I think it came up once that LIT is. As for myself, BNE ’91.

  37. “Taxes? IKEA hates them. At the onshore tax haven underneath Newark Airport’s flight patterns, you pay half — 3.5 percent — of the typical New Jersey tax rate. Kamprad is a tax refugee living in Switzerland, not Sweden, and the complicated corporate structure of IKEA, which is run by a taxman-disorienting array of holding companies, drives down its Eurotaxes.”

    Yeah, fantastic, so it takes all the money that is spent on road taxes and so on and returns barely anything.

    Corporate exploitation and irresponsibility. That’s EXACTLY what we need more of.

  38. THIS IS EXCELLENT NEWS!! FOR HILLARY!!!

  39. Ikea sucks; cheap stuff at low prices. I also had an entertainment center that sagged, and sagged some more over time, to the point that it wasn’t even usable. I understand students wanting cheap furniture, but it sort of gets to a point. I don’t like the idea that their stuff is so disposable; i.e., you know going into the bargain that much of the stuff won’t last more than a few years, tops.

  40. Ikea has a system for their product names. Someone in Denmark is up in arms because the cheaper product like cooking utensils are Danish names, while the furniture products are Swedish names.

  41. “Anybody who can herd a dozen Walmart associates together in one place should made Ambassador to Iraq.”

    Actually, any of the night managers can do that. As a former wal-mart employee, I can let you in on a little known secret: at the end of every evening all of the closing employees have to gather at the front of the store and sing a little song accompanied by a little dance about the greatness of wal-mart, and their store (insert # here) in particular. It’s a lot like those choreographed prison videos from the Philippines, only with more desperation.

  42. I’ve lived in several places round the world and Ikea is great for when you are in a new place and you need something to kit your new abode out with. It’s cheap, it’s reliable and you know you can get what you need at any of their stores. Some of it is a bit flimsy, but the important stuff like beds and couches we get from other places.

  43. I just happened to be in Ikea for the first time last night. It’s funny to read other people comment on what a clusterf— of a maze it is.

    I assume they expect you to mindlessly grab stuff as you go but I ama dude and being stuck ina store is not my ideal way to blow two hours of my life.

    Funny they even had “short cuts” listed on their lame store maps–and I never saw one of them. Must be underground or something.

    I agree with above, this does bode well for Hillary, even though it is a mathematical impossibility for her to win by the actual rules, but I digress

  44. Taxes? IKEA hates them. At the onshore tax haven underneath Newark Airport’s flight patterns, you pay half — 3.5 percent — of the typical New Jersey tax rate.

    Not to burst the author’s bubble, but this has fuck-all to do with Ikea. The store just happens to be located in Elizabeth (NJ Turnpike Exit 13A), which has been designated a NJ Urban Enterprise Zone. There are other UEZs in similar poor communities, including Paterson and Trenton. At the Ikea in Paramus, in contrast, purchases are taxed at the full 7% rate.

  45. Here’s a bit about “window taxes” in London. Did you ever notice how many windows are bricked up in central London? Here’s why.
    http://fascinatinghistory.blogspot.com/2005/06/window-tax-and-other-weird-london-laws.html

  46. A while back I was being snide about the IKEA aesthetic in the presence of a young Swedish student who had just completed a term paper on the company. She retorted that IKEA was originally a serious design collective very much like other high end Scandinavian companies where vases handmade by internationally celebrated artists cost 500 and sofas 4000. IKEA just grew beyond handmade. I actually own a piece of their early pottery, made before they were well know, and its handmade by a well known designer, beautiful quality, and produced in a very limited edition. But I can’t sell it at an appropriate snob value, based on reasonable comparitors, because no one believes that artists were ever that intimate with the designs.

  47. Perfect solution for a heat wave – a few years back we had a two week plus stand of 100F weather. Spent a couple of afternoons at Ikea sitting around on their sofas and soaking up their air conditioning. When we needed a break, we went to the cafeteria for light refreshments.

  48. I’d say something about IKEA, but I have no dog in this hunt. Some of their furn’s okay, some blows. I just like making fun of the goofy names.

    Like maybe the Jerker computer desk? (Meatballs are optional.)

  49. “endless cornfield mazes”: I agree, I have found myself searching for the exit. However, they have little maps posted everywhere, and exiting usually involves a left hand turn and a shortcut — I think you can handle it. “swollen with meandering humanity”: Look at me, I’m an intellectual!!!

    “the sickly sweet smell of meatball stroganoff”: maybe — I’ve never smelled the stroganoff on the other side of the store, but I guess it’s possible. Maybe you were just smelling the meandering humanity.

  50. “I try to avoid grocery stores just before the dinner hour because they can get busy.”

    “I try to avoid grocery stores just before the dinner hour because they can be crowded.”

    “I try to avoid grocery stores just before the dinner hour because they can become swollen with meandering humanity.” That’s it! Bingo!

  51. It’s my understanding that Ikea is still a private company, not public. That is probably how they are able to avoid the level of scrutiny that public companies enjoy.

  52. “Mo: you talk about “anti-capitalist” lefties, then cite to a list of corporations they support. You probably put this down to “hypocrisy” instead of questioning your own belief that these people are “anti-capitalist.” Sad.

    Thanks, Lamar. I knew there was something wrong with Mo’s comment, but you nailed it much better than I could. I don’t consider myself to be an “anti-capitalist lefty”, but rather an individual that finds the rapaciousness of some “capitalists” to be disgusting. Perhaps that makes me an “anti-capitalist lefty” these days…

    On topic: You get what you pay for sometimes. The wife and I bought a nice sleek black leather couch from Ikea and it still stands up to my flomping quite well after 6 years, but it really isn’t terribly comfortable. That’s my fault. I have a bad habit of putting form over function sometimes. I have a very European taste in aesthetics, so a lot of Ikea’s stuff appeals to me, comfortable or not.

  53. I know some people who work for IKEA and have been hearing a lot of griping in the last couple years about how the company is starting to focus more and more on low prices and less on quality. IKEA believes that Americans (and Germans — their biggest market) only care about price, so are generally cutting staff hours, and focusing more and more on filling up pallets with cheap stuff figuring that most Americans aren’t going to notice that the cheap stuff is also poor quality.

  54. Went to IKEA twice recently for my first visits. Even though there is not much I would buy there, it’s still a fascinating retail experience. I did love the “Kitchen in a Box” but did not buy it.

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  56. That’s what entertaining New York Post film reviewer Kyle Smith argued this weekend. A snippet, complete with Swedish characters FUBARred
    http://www.mirei.com

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