The Financial Times reports that, according to estimates, fourth quarter sales and profits were down for Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer. Previously, Walmart had announced that sales were expected to be flat, but now it’s saying sales are likely to be “slightly negative.” Official results are due out on Feb. 20.

What’s especially interesting is that Walmart is citing food stamp cuts as one reason for declining sales. Fully 20 percent of Walmart’s customers use food stamps.

The article notes that Walmart isn’t the only retailer that experienced a bad fourth quarter last year. Outlets from Sears to Best Buy to Amazon experienced flat sales or slowed growth. But all of this bad business news is continuing evidence that the economy has yet to recover from its prolonged, Japan-style slump.

I’m particularly struck by the example Walmart’s declining sales provides of the wages of austerity economics. The government induces cutbacks, people have less money in their pockets, businesses suffer. The next step is that those same businesses start laying off people. Then the G.O.P. geniuses start telling us “It’s time to tighten our belts,” and it’s lather, rinse, repeat.

Some historian fishing for a book topic might be well-advised to propose an update to Barbara Tuchman’s classic work about boneheaded mistakes in history, The March of Folly. Between the Iraq fiasco and our ongoing economic disaster, there’s abundant material for another book — and the century is still young!

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee