Recently I wrote a piece entitled Boycott Back Friday. Generally it was well received. Being fans of capitalism and the voluntary exchange of goods and services we made the point that it was entirely reasonable to opt out of the buying frenzy from a pro-market perspective. To value time (time is money) with one’s family and more than standing in line to buy things is the very essence of what a free market is all about.
Yet a few readers took us to task for daring to say that the gluttonous consumption of shiny trinkets on Black Friday was a bad thing. We were besmirching capitalism. That the act of not going shopping with the other credit lemmings was practically un-American. One guy basically equated us to socialists. (Which is pretty damn laughable if you’ve read us for any period of time.)
To be clear people should be able to spend their money any way they like, and I mean any way. (So long as they are not hurting others.) If people want to descend on WalMart at midnight (now even earlier than that) they have every right to. If they want a hooker on Christmas Eve, so be it. But I think there is much to be said for just turning one’s back on the entire mess. (Or at least much of it. I will be surfing Amazon at some point next month.)
Governments like the gratuitous consumption of Christmas because it fills the tills. Sales taxes during the holiday season are very important to them. Add the multitude of other revenue streams which flow from the private sector to the state in December, and it’s no wonder there is so much concern in government about how much people are spending during December each year. In addition to the sales taxes, think about the gas taxes, the food taxes (a sales tax yes), phone taxes, and God knows what other taxes which get a big boost at the end of the year. The bureaucracy needs to make its nut. So sell, sell, sell, buy, buy, buy.
Of course we engage in the whirlwind of consumerism each year not because the government tells us to. Most of us do it because it has become deeply ingrained in our culture. As the cold and darkness of winter creeps over the northern hemisphere we busy ourselves with racing from here to there, buying this and that. I am actually convinced that at least a small part of the winter consumption binge is a salve spread over Seasonal Affective Disorder. (I think that it would actually make sense to move Christmas to the end of February. People could anticipate Christmas all winter long, celebrate, then boom–here comes Spring. I would support a Congressional effort to make this happen.)
To be sure much of the buying is just a form of celebration. A splurging during Western society’s greatest festival. It can be fun to go shopping. It’s fun to give people things that they enjoy. It’s fun to think of people we know and love in distant places opening our gift on Christmas morning. All of the buying during Christmas isn’t bad.
But much of the buying is. Millions of people go into debt, or further into debt, each year trying to live up to the expectations of their family and friends. The kids must get this. My friends expect that. Where’s the Visa?
And the banks, the ones we bailed out 5 years ago supply the credit for all this buying. Easy money flows. Debtors buy more from the company store.
Again, if buying makes one happy I understand. Heck, one day I hope to put a 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO under the tree. But consider making your purchases more deliberate this year. Engage in “conscious capitalism” as John Mackey the founder of Whole Foods might say. I’m going to do my best to, but I’ll bet I still buy too much. Most of us will.