Sunday, September 16, 2012

Black Friday, Commercialism, Capitalism, and Localism – Some Thoughts

This note was originally written on December 2nd, 2011 and posted on Facebook. I'm moving these notes here to my blog.

I’ve collected some thoughts on the recent annual reoccurrence of consumerism gone wild known as Black Friday. First I must confess that a few years back I stood in line at Wal-Mart in the pre-dawn darkness and coldness just to score a great deal on an HP laptop. Ironically, the person I gave it to as a Christmas gift ended up stepping on it and breaking the display. The $500 price tag for repair exceeded the purchase price by $200.

These days a $300 laptop is not such a big deal, and I have better things to do than stand in long lines in the darkness and coldness and – you get it – curmudgeon talk: Why in my day sonny we walked to school, up hill, both ways. We didn’t have no stinkin’ Black Friday. Every day was black. Old Tommy was still workin’ on the light bulb, and so we just had candles – and we liked it.

But seriously folks: how does this annual craziness in any way help to celebrate our Savior’s birth – something infinitely worth celebrating, but all the news on the radio is economists predicting this year’s shopping results and how they will be reflected in the DJIA! (Oh, and in the Dallas schools, it’s OK to have a Santa – but NO BABY JESUS!) Wait, where was I  …

Now I’m not opposed to capitalism. I do believe it is a terrible system, but it is just better than any other economic system out there. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Cubans, or the Chinese, or the Soviets. No, greed is good when the goal is cost effectiveness, value for your dollar, customer service, and lifting yourself up with the boost from your own ideas. The American dream is just that: to improve things for you and your family through hard work and effort.

The stock market is by far – even with the recent unpleasantness, still the best return on an investment – and – again – don’t kid yourself – there are plenty of middle class folks in the market via 401k’s, IRAs, funded pension plans, and even their mortgage.

No capitalism is the best solution for economic well being. It is a locomotive of economic progress shared by investors, executives, consumers, and workers alike. Unfortunately, the train has gotten a little off track lately – – –  A LITTLE!     Maybe you haven’t been reading the papers ! ?!?

Ah, but I have been reading the papers. Just finished a little article by a local writer Joel Dryer. He introduced me to Walter Goldschmidt and his little research called “As You Sow.” He was an anthropologist and his 1947 article was prescience to where we find ourselves today.

He reported on two California communities called Dinuba and Arvin. The towns were similar in size, population, age, etc. But over time, agricultural consolidation began to impact Arvin, but not Dinuba. A few large industrial farms consumed all of the land around Arvin, whereas Dinuba held on to its many small family farms.

Goldschmidt found that this difference in agricultural structure expressed itself in startling ways, as the small farmers continued to plow their money back into the local economy. Arvin, on the other hand, was not where the large industrial farms banked, or shopped, or spent their profits.

As a result, Dinuba supported no fewer than twice as many businesses as the corporate-farming Arvin. Not only did Dinuba have twice the business, it had a 61 percent greater retail volume. Arvin residents were found to have an overall lower standard of living despite their commitment to technological advancements in agriculture. And the differences didn’t stop there.

Dinuba residents enjoyed more civic organizations, newspapers, recreation centers, parks, schools, and churches. Even the style of government was different. Small-farming Dinuba commonly made town decisions through popular vote. Arvin, however, had most of its decisions dictated by county and city officials.

Goldschmidt’s revelations on the power of keeping things small and local should have made him the father of the shop local movement and a hero to Occupy Wall Street. But, he may have been so far ahead of his time that the message has been completely lost. The anthropologist died in 2010 at the age of 97.

His findings have been reinforced in the 21st century and should explain a lot of what has been going on lately. I’m not against Wal-Mart or Target. They both are examples of powerful efficiencies and demonstrate our global distribution system. However, the ease with which we import manufactured goods from Asian countries and elsewhere, rather than to manufacture them here is a major cause of our current economic malaise.

Here are some modern examples: Spend $10 at Starbucks, and about 14 percent of that stays in the community as payroll. There may be a little more in terms of rent and utilities, but the majority of the bucks fly back to Seattle, home of Starbucks and a sometimes football team. Wouldn’t it be better to keep that money in town. Even if the rich owner of a chain of coffee shops used the money to build a mansion and drive big cars, at least the home would be built by local carpenters and the cars would be serviced at local garages.

Mile High Business Alliance, a Denver agency, reported that we will spend $12 billion during the holidays. They state that, if we shifted 10% of that spending to local business from the large “box” stores and multinational corporations, then the Colorado economy would increase by $3 billion. Now I do love Amazon and Apple, and I probably won’t be buying a computer built by some local store, but I can go to the Mr. Bean rather than Starbucks. I can go to the Corner Pantry rather than Safeway. I can get lunch at Snarfmont rather than Jimmy Johns. And I can buy gifts at the storefronts downtown rather than at Target.

(Bad news for my friends and family. They’re actually getting home made gifts this year. That is more because I’ve got a lot of free time than any economic impact, but it will have a positive impact on my personal bottom line. Besides, I don’t have to know your size to create these personally crafted masterpieces. But don’t open them until Christmas!)

OK. Time for the big ending. This should bring them all to their feet. Ready?

You know, this worked for Arlo Guthrie – let’s start a movement. (I did have to modify the lyrics a little. After all, Arlo was trying to end the war – I’m trying to start the peace!)

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick.  And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both crazy and it won’t matter much anyway. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin’ a bar of Alice's Restaurant, [shopping locally,] and walking out. They may think it's an organization.  And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice's Restaurant, [shopping locally,] and walking out. 

And friends they may thinks it's a movement.  And that's what it is, the Alice's Restaurant [shop local] Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come's around on the guitar.

With feeling.  So we'll wait for it to come around on the guitar, here and sing it when it does. 

Here it comes.

You can get anything you want, at Alice’s [locally owned and operated] Restaurant … exceptin’ Alice.

No comments:

Post a Comment