I’ve written before about how IKEA, with its family friendly day-care centers and cafeterias and all that, contrives a social-welfare aura that seems to transform their sometimes shoddy goods into highly marketable emblems of a better social democracy to come. Well, according to this item from German periodial Der Spiegel some people are taking the company’s commitment to the social welfare quite seriously. “More and more people are starting to use the stores as an ersatz for social services and babysitting,” the article reports, detailing how poor Germans use IKEA stores as soup kitchens. This leads to unlikely encounters across class lines: “The customers are a colorful mix of people: pensioners meet up with single-parents, managers with garbage collectors. ‘The Ikea restaurant is a modern meeting point for all kinds of people. It’s a sort of social living room,’ says Gretel Weiss, who works for the magazine Food Service. Some people even celebrate their birthday in this ‘social living room.’ ” So IKEA really is the town square for the consumer-driven social democracy of the future, where we all have balsa-wood bookcases and all the Swedish meatballs we can stomach.