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  • Monday, December 20, 2004


    Christmas and Capitalism

    I've known for a long time about the economic results of Christmas shopping but I'm still always a little stunned every time I hear that one quarter of annual consumer spending happens between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And with the trade deficit growing, we have this tidbit from AP:
    Bush's comments on the dollar came one day after the government reported that the U.S. trade deficit hit a monthly record of $55.5 billion in October.

    Bush told reporters that the trade deficit was "easy to resolve. People can buy more United States products if they're worried about the trade deficit."

    This sounds remarkably similar to the advice from Bush after 9-11 that the public could help by shopping. In related shopping news, this is from Les Fleurs du Mall:

    There's a simple explanation for this turnaround: we gave over to the pre-rational phenomenon known as the orgiastic ritual.

    To paraphrase the philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm, the orgiastic ritual is an activity cooked up by the group to scare away the very bad scariness of existential isolation. It's usually something a little racier than holiday shopping, but in this culture holiday shopping is frenzied and ritualistic enough to count. We meet in the marketplace, we all go a little crazy together, we have some fun, we make some mistakes. And in the end we're worn out and full of that good feeling of belonging to something larger than ourselves.

    The problem for anyone trying to remain sane and responsible during the holidays lies in what the "something larger" is.

    Maybe it's nothing more than a consumer-driven economy that requires a massive end-of-year cash infusion just to keep the wheels from coming off. Indeed, the retail sector has come to rely on the holiday season. Analysts predict that one quarter of this year's retail spending, or $220 billion worth, will take place during the 29 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The day that starts it all off is known in the biz as Black Friday for its legendary power to push retailers safely into the profit column for the year. From that point on the experts, like priests reading the entrails of slaughtered beasts, anxiously watch for signs of how big the holiday shopping season – and therefore the year – will be.

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