Thursday, November 24, 2005

Try Buying Nothing For a Day. I Dare You.

With Thanksgiving winding down there's growing anticipation in the streets and homes of DC. I'm surrounded by an edgy silence. It's like a simmering Jamaican soup, calmly sitting on the stove but possessing enough fire and passion to melt the coldest of hearts. I can feel the energy in the air; it's absolutely palpable.

Tomorrow is one of the biggest shopping days of the year: Black Friday, so named as it tends to bring retailers into the fiscal black. It is an exciting day and while I prefer to avoid the crowds I do like to stop by the malls and breathe in the wonderful ordered chaos. It's a holy pilgrimage for economists.

And now that I live in a real city, I might get lucky and spot some "Buy Nothing Day" protesters. I doubt I'll actually see any because the Adbusters group doesn't seem to protest consumerism in the US (but they seem to be very popular in Europe in Canada). Their rather ambitious goal is to buy nothing on Black Friday to protest the evils of people purchasing gifts for their friends and family. The horror, the horror.

I really hope to see them so I could tell them they are hypocrites. They didn't “buy nothing” that day. Virtually nobody "buys nothing." Here's a list of things at least one protestor will buy tomorrow.

-Car maintenance (depreciation)
-Lighters (for the cigarettes)
-Butane (for the lighters)
-Markers (they carry big signs)
-Posters (again, the signs)
-Clothes/Shoes (depreciation)
-Bus/cab/subway fares
-Cell phone minutes
-Pay toilets

No doubt people will say that they didn't buy those things today, but I argue they did otherwise their entire protest is meaningless. If we define "buying" as merely the exchange of money between hands then buying doesn't happen nearly as much. You don't buy something if you paid with a credit card (you write the check much later). Since I doubt the make the distinction between credit cards and cash, they must mean "buying" to be "engaging in an activity that promises payment." Consumption. Because of the protesters activities tomorrow, they will or did buy certain goods and services. In every relevant way, they are buying things. Ironically, you are less of a consumer if you stay at home and watch TV.

Say what you will about the mall-shoppers tomorrow. At least they are being honest.


Anonymous said...

David, do you really think any sane investor, creditor, account, etc will let a store run in the red 11 months out of the year only to make a profit in a one month rush year after year? You don't have to live and breath economics to realize the phrase "Black Friday" is a bit incomplete. Same is true of the "Buy Nothing" protestors you go after. By your defination of "buying" everyone is always consuming. Chances are they define buying as "going into a store, picking out a physical item, purchasing that item, going home".

Nearly all names and slogans only give a rough idea and describe the product. From the "Big Bang" theory of the universe to a Dodge Ram pick up. You can read too much into the names. The "Buy Nothing" protestors are no more hyprocrites because of your expanded meaning of buying than a Dodge Ram dealer is because he doesn't sell male bighorn sheep.


David said...

I never said a store's in the red for 11 months out of the year, but I do know that they are for several months prior to that. Considering the Christmas shopping season accounts for about half their revenues, then yes, it really is an important time of the year for retailers.

If they define "buying" as "going into a store, picking out a physical item, purchasing that item, going home" then they can't include credit card or check purchases. Moreover, their protest enters the realm of arbitary distinctions.

If I purchase an item on Thanksgiving for the purpose of an activity on Black Friday (like posters for signs) then while the actual sale occured yesterday, the reason why the sale occured in the first place was because of today. The reason for buying actually occured on the "buy nothing" day. And we know the protestors care about buying in this way is because they are protesting "consumerism." Consumption. I merely illustrated how buying and consumption are one in the same in order to expose them as hypocrits.

Jacob said...

If you want to see some Buy Nothing protestors, go to Wisconsin Avenue near Georgetown Plaza. They're there every year.

Anonymous said...

The REALLY interesting thing to see would be to compare the sales of the shops around the "buy nothing" day in cities and areas where the "buy nothing" activists were, well, active.

I suspect it didn't make even the slightest of dents in the sales.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they are protesting "consumerism" per se. I think they are protesting "consumerism gone nuts". Every year we hear about riots or near riots at Walmart or Target or wherever and see a video clip where people get trampled. There are some place I don't even THINK about going to because of the shoppers.

What I find tragicly funny are the people who say it detracts from the "real" meaning of Christmas. What they never bothered to research is that originally Christmas was a pagan roman holiday for Saturn. It was celebrated with home decorating, gifts, parties, most of the ways we celebrate it today. Christianity really only contributed two things to the holiday, a new name and candy canes.