Black Friday

Today is “black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving when supposedly the Christmas shopping madness seizes the American people and drives them into a frenzy of buying for themselves and others.  While the term “Black Friday” was used at least as far back as 1869, it originally referred to financial crises, but at some point in the mid-1970s, newspapers and media began referring to the day after Thanksgiving as an indicator of what merchants were likely to be “in the black,” or profitable, because of the Christmas buying season. After a time, and particularly in the last decade, this meaning of “black Friday” has usurped all others.

Unfortunately, there are a number of problems with this usage, and especially with the implications behind it.  Because everyone seems to want to concentrate on the economic side, I’ll begin there.  First, the idea of “black Friday” emphasizes consumer buying and consumption as the primary measure of U.S. economic power and success, at a time when the majority of the goods consumed come from other countries.  Second, it ties expectations to a given day of the year. In addition, it creates a mindset that suggests, if a retail business’s holiday revenues are not substantial, then there’s something wrong.  While that may be true for seasonal goods, not all consumer products are seasonal.

Beyond those reasons are the ethical ones.  Do we really want to continue to push the idea of consumer spending as the only – or even the principal – way to keep the economy going, particularly at a time when our entire societal infrastructure, from roads to bridges, to financial structures, to the electrical grid, among others, need rebuilding or total re-structuring?  At a time when Americans, with something like five percent of the world’s population, already consume 25% of its annual output?  Do we want to create a mindset that emphasizes consumption at a time when so many people are struggling to make ends meet?

Then there’s the purely practical question of whether it’s a good idea to emphasize consumption – most of it temporary in nature – when those goods are largely produced overseas, while neglecting building and using capital goods that will generate jobs in the United States.

Black Friday – an economic success or a societal disaster?

13 thoughts on “Black Friday”

  1. BW says:

    I’ve only recently discovered this site after I decided to find out a bit more about the writer I enjoy. It’s strange that I find myself disagreeing conceptually with several of his blog posts, and this one more than any other!

    Mr. Modesitt’s concern for Black Friday’s implications and the ethics behind American consumerism is overblown and reflects the anti-capitalistic bias that so many in our society support.

    Black Friday isn’t a primary measure of America’s success. It has become a chance for individuals to maximize buying power (because of aggressive retailer sales). Good sales are a good thing for our citizens and our economy especially during difficult economic times. Sadly, the success of the shopping day has become a barometer of consumer confidence, more so in this poor economy and consumer spending is the only real way to overcome the economic downturn.

    We could certainly debate whether America’s economic foundation is for the best (I would agree that our country is not well served by jobs displaced overseas or by aging infrastructure); however, a strong economy is in everyone’s interests and therefore I celebrate Black Friday! Consumerism is the only way to bring increased production and employment to the very folks who are currently struggling!

    The fact that Americans consume more than the rest of the world is inarguable but unchangable for now. In fact, it is in the world’s interests that America’s economy improve. Our spending drives much of the world’s economy (for good or bad) and our poor economy makes for great economic turmoil around the world.

    Unfortunately, it’s too late to argue whether American consumerism is good or bad (that argument would have been very valuable 30 or 40 years ago). What we have to focus on now, is improving America’s (and the worlds) economy so that we can return citizens to work and improve the financial condition of our country. Economic strength is in everyone’s best interests. It is only when America’s economy is strong that policy makers can look to change some of the underlying concerns that Mr. Modesitt’s blog highlights.

    Keep bringing the posts Mr. Modesitt, I enjoy them!

    1. I’m anything but anti-capitalist; what I am is anti-short-sighted, short-term profit maximization, and I see Black Friday as a manifestation of this business attitude of maximizing this year’s [or this quarter’s] profits while cannibalizing the future.

  2. Chris says:

    “In fact, it is in the world’s interests that America’s economy improve.”

    This is completely true, but not for the reason you think. America’s economy can only improve if it takes on even greater debt. Taking on greater debt will lead to greater instability. Greater instability will lead eventually to a collapse. A collapse will most certainly not be good for the US, or the world in the short term. But it is an unavoidable outcome, and will lead to a better future, especially for the rest of the world.

  3. No, you’re not. I don’t know you, but I can guarantee you that you’re not even close, no matter what state you live in, or your lifestyle. Calculate it from actual payments, and get back to us. Simply adding up marginal tax rates uses the same logic as saying that saving 25% on each of four purchases means you saved 100%.

  4. Obama’s capitulation on the tax cuts is a craven, inexcusable, pathetic act of political cowardice that legitimizes all the left-wing whining about him that generally has been, until this point, unmerited.

  5. I went back to my 2009 returns/records, and I paid over 50% of my income in taxes. I am also counting FICA, state disability, Medicare. Just looking at what my gross was and how much I get back. Maybe I did something wrong?

  6. The Rs were ready for Hillary in 2008. Every slanderous accusation that they accumulated for over 15 years would have been thrown at her and would still be reverberating courtesy of FNC. She might still have won, but assuming that she would now be in better shape than Obama is speculation. Would HillaryCare The Sequel fare any better than ObamaCare in the Fox driven cesspool that passes for political debate? And without the votes on Election Day, how would she be stronger?

  7. Tell the Iraqi and Afghani people that we’re ‘better than most.’ 100,000+ dead Iraqis because of our war that should have ended up with Bush and Cheney sent to an international war crimes court.

  8. Dee Worland says:

    I dunno, it seems to be simple calculus to me. Democrats were always in favor of middle class tax cuts, so that aside what is the extra cost in a two year extension of millionaire tax cuts? 140 billion. For that they got 56 billion of unemployment extensions and reduction of payroll tax. All in all not a bad deal considering the alternative of doing nothing at all. Politically, the Republicans have a problem in forcing this issue.

  9. Sure, but that money shift happened a long time ago, nothing new there. Republicans could introduce legislation on Social Security, sure. Some kind of legislation may even be needed. But, they don’t call that a third rail for nothing. They found that out when Bush tried to privatize Social Security, just like Paul Ryan wants to do. Not only will something like that not pass, the pitchforks will be sharpened.

  10. Well, sure, some kind of legislation is needed, but it’s the kind that involves asking the rich to pay more to support the stable, educated, free society that allowed them to make all that money in a genteel fashion. And that takes more guts than I’ve seen from anyone in Washington, except maybe Bernie Sanders.

  11. Short sales are such a hassle. People got themselves into this mess, it’s really sad. Too much greed, stay within your means.

  12. Tell the Iraqi and Afghani people that we’re ‘better than most.’ 100,000+ dead Iraqis because of our war that should have ended up with Bush and Cheney sent to an international war crimes court.

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