Happy Cyber Monday!
“Cyber Monday was an instant hit when it was created in 2005 by the National Retail Federation (a major retail trade association), and is today by far the largest online shopping day of the year in the U.S.” according to A. Ant Ozok. He predicts Cyber Monday will become the biggest shopping day of the year period within the next decade.
The other Black Friday alternative is Small Business Saturday, created by American Express. Which is kind of ironic, as my sister Evelyn pointed out over Thanksgiving, as many small businesses don’t take American Express due to their anti-vendor policies and high fees.
Evelyn works in medical cannabis (check out Metropolitan Wellness Center if you’re in D.C.). She and I talked about how people upset that Big Tobacco will likely take over the cannabis industry when enough states legalize recreational marijuana. While Steve Horwitz challenges the assumption that shopping local is more moral than shopping international, Ev and I challenge the idea that shopping small is more moral than big.
In fact, I want to challenge the set of assumptions behind so-called “conscious consumerism.” I’s tempting, at least for the people with the time and money for it, to vote with our dollars against things we dislike. But as Jason Tebbe wrote for Jacobin, the idea of morality through luxury goods contains more than a little neo-Victorianism. While the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie used moderation and abstention to assert class dominance, today’s elites do it through locally sourced, ethically produced, organic, gluten-free, non-GMO goods.
Moralizing consumerism turns shopping at Walmart instead of Whole Foods into a sinful act. It’s a way to self-righteously sneer at poor people.
Drinking Bud Light isn’t a moral failing. It’s a rational choice. Not everyone likes craft brews enough to pay more for it. That’s okay. Not everyone needs the craft brew of cannabis. Sometimes you just want to get buzzed, and sometimes you just want to get stoned. Opening up altered states to people who cannot or don’t want to pay a lot for them is a good thing. Big business makes that possible.
Now, a caveat. Walmart and Anheuser Busch are cheaper in part because they’re subsidized by government. They’re guilty of taking land deals and favorable trade agreements and lobbying successfully for competition-crushing laws. None of that is good for consumers. Competitive advantage should only by conferred via innovation, not government-conferred rents. However, even in a free market, big business would exist. And in a free market, there would and should be a place for lower cost, lower quality goods.
The problem isn’t that Bud Light exists. It’s that I’m paying for it whether I buy it or not. Similarly, the problem with Donald Trump using his position to get richer isn’t that that feels yucky. It’s that companies will use Trump to get richer instead of innovating.
Small Business Saturday and shopping local and buying organic can’t undo cronyism. They just reinforce class dominance by painting the “wrong” purchases as moral failings.
So shop Cyber Monday with pride. Buy from whoever offers the quality you want at the price you can afford. And if you want to get moral about it, write your mayor and tell them not to offer Walmart a tax break or discount on real estate.