Friday, November 25, 2005

Fat Geese and Others
Today, of course, was Black Friday, apocryphally famed as every year's gonzo-hugest orgy of capitalist excess. Let me start by saying that if I hear one more time how it's not really the biggest shopping day, I'm going to scream. I don't care if it is, and I don't care if it isn't. The whole myth has been bastardized and rebastardized simply to herd more loose-walleted sheep into the retail slaughterhouses around the land. As if we aren't already trained to shell out more than we can afford each holiday season anyway.

You may have heard of the various "don't spend a dime" campaigns through which, we are to believe, a one-day purchasing boycott will send the message that we're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. As symbollic gestures go, I suppose it's less personally demanding than a hunger strike, and if it makes you feel better to hang onto your pennies until the 26th, then more power to you. But the cold fact is that it won't make a bit of difference. You and I and everyone that either of us will ever know could all collectively decide not to buy anything today, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference. Heck, we can all skip the whole season, and the ghost of Sam Walton won't even notice.

The problem with such a boycott is the same as with any "don't buy X today" effort. Chances are that yesterday you bought whatever it is you're not buying today. And if you didn't buy it yesterday, you'll probably buy it tomorrow. And even if you won't buy it yesterday or tomorrow, that just means that somebody else will buy two of it instead of one. Voting with one's dollars is mostly a myth and, in the end, seldom hurts anyone other than the entry-level employee whose position is eliminated due to poor sales.

So if you want to buy, buy. And if you don't, then don't. But by all means don't fool yourself into thinking that your boycott will result in anything more than odd stares when you mention it at work on Monday. Or on Tuesday, if you have Monday off for buck season.

In the coming days we must brace for all kinds of nonsense about the state of the economy vis a vis the huge outpouring of middle class dollars this season. Bush-apologists will hail it as a confirmation of his wise fiscal policy, followed by calls to cut even more taxes for the wealthy (because the economy is so strong, see). There'll be talk of rising consumer confidence and the longterm prospects for the dollar and the stock market and blah blah blah. Any economic windfall will be credited to Bush, while any shortfalls will be blamed on, oh I don't know, Democrats bashing the War or trying to fund Medicare. In any case, I'm sure that a Liberal is to blame, somehow.

Fact: The state of the economy is independent of Presidential policy unless the economy is strong and the President is Republican or if the economy is weak and the President is a Democrat.

Christmas comes, the goose gets fat, and we all put a penny in the old man's hat. January rolls around and the buying frenzy continues until the post X-mas sales are exhausted, and then we decide whether to forego food or heat when the credit card bills start coming home to roost. But to hear the media tell it, it's a big and tragic surprise when retailers suffer dramatic revenue drop-offs beginning in February or March, and it's shocking that the nation's employment numbers take a dive as all of those seasonal workers are let go. What's apparently forgotten each Season of Avarice is that the whole damned thing is cyclical.

Are we to weep for the retailer whose March numbers don't match those from December? Boo-hoo! If only there were a way to guess that sales would dwindle every year at about the same time! Sorry, but if you can't plan for a well-known, well-understood and well-predicted downturn, then maybe you should run FEMA, but you certainly shouldn't helm a retail establishment.

So buy whatever gifts you're planning to buy, and buy them today or tomorrow or the next day. But don't shop on December 17th, because for several years running the Saturday before Christmas has been the real gonzo-hugest sales day, and no one wants to have to deal with that.

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