Culture At Large

Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day

Joshua Walters

Buy Nothing Day is back, positioned in response to the consumerism of Black Friday. But does such an event truly help the cause that it aims to address?

The Occupy movement is rallying the troops to participate in this international day of non-consumption. Ad Busters, the Canadian-based anti-consumerist magazine (who, by the way, initiated Occupy) is also promoting it as #occupyxmas.

On the surface, Buy Nothing Day is an exciting and creative way to live out the message of Jesus: it is an act of fasting and an explicit "no" to mammon (the Aramaic word for money, wealth and greed). Jesus invites his followers to both of these practices. In Matt. 6:24, Jesus teaches, "You cannot serve God and mammon." Jesus' words resonate exceptionally well with the principle motivation behind Buy Nothing Day.

Beneath the surface, however, I am concerned with the ramifications of such an event. Most specifically, I worry that a "successful" Buy Nothing Day will only hurt the very people the Occupy movement desires to help. When Black Friday profits plummet, who takes the hit? The employees, not the CEOs. If seasonal sales are low, then companies are less likely to hire those extra holiday helpers. In short, my concern is that this all-or-nothing approach only hurts the middle class.

This is the evil, Catch 22 of the economy. We are told that the only way out of debt is to spend more. The only way to economic recovery is to shop. Do you remember President George W. Bush's advice after 9/11? He told America to go shopping!

So ... what do we do? As a frugal graduate student who couldn't care less about holiday shopping, I am no bank of creative solutions. However, it seems to me that instead of quitting the game of consumerism altogether, we need to spend our money in smart, ethically responsible ways. This means shopping at clothing stores like these rather than Gap or Banana Republic. It means buying presents for the kids at NMC Toys. There are countless companies trying to participate ethically in this capitalistic economy. Check out the Buyer's Guide on the website EthicalConsumer.org or visit EthicalShopping.com.

As far as I'm concerned, Buy Nothing Day is a great idea. But in the long run, I'm worried that utter non-consumption will only hurt the middle class and motivate company execs to seek alternative ways to maximize profit. By playing the consumption game ethically, perhaps we can transform things from the inside out (like yeast).

Topics: Culture At Large, Business & Economics, Money, Economics, News & Politics, Social Trends, North America