• Posted: Nov 25, 2012 14:23:00
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Americans this weekend are in the midst of Thanksgiving Weekend, a four day festival of family gathering, good food, and shopping.
Shopping, you say? Yes, shopping.
While Thanksgiving was, in its inception, and more or less continues to this day a Harvest Festival wherein families and communities gather to celebrate the abundance of harvest and the blessings of life, commercial interests have in more recent times marked the same holiday as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The day after Thanksgiving Thursday has taken on the label Black Friday.
Why black? Black because it often marks the approximate day retail businesses begin to see profit for the year beyond the red ink of debt and expense. In other words, their accounts begin to show more black ink than red. Plus, the spur to increased sales and bigger profits is nearly always punctuated by the offer of substantial discounts on popular items. Apple, for instance, has for a short time taken 10% off the price of many of its newest offerings. Other retailers have done similarly. Shoppers often race to grab stocks on hand at those attractive prices, whether it be as a gift or for themselves. The result is both increased sales for retailers and increased "savings" for consumers.
A good thing? Or, a bad thing?
In general, free markets generate economic activity. When there is economic activity, there are jobs and business opportunities. People have opportunity to trade up from subsistence living, to move beyond feeding themselves from their own gardens and gatherings off the land. Within markets, they can trade their own expertise, knowledge, skill, handicraft, and efforts for that of others. People who participate get richer. But there are costs.
For one thing, economic activity, as currently practiced around the world, takes a huge toll on the environment. We rip up the land in mining and farming efforts. We pollute our air and fresh water with waste and runoff. We devastate ecosystems and speciation. We have even succeeded in trapping so much heat within our atmosphere that climate is changing. Earth's ice caps are melting and its oceans are turning acidic, becoming more turbulent, and rising. And, as tundra melts and more and more methane is released through decay processes, changes to climate will terrifyingly accelerate. There is no doubt about it.
Another cost of commercial market activity is economic stratification. It all begins to work like a zero-sum game. A few get very rich while the masses become somewhat richer than they might have been, but relative to the very rich they become very much poorer. The differences in accumulated wealth become alarmingly huge. The problem with that is when what is aspired to becomes unreachable, people get frustrated, angry, and then sometimes violent. Revolutions occur under such conditions.
Free markets obviously work. But there is no responsible wisdom to them. Basically, anything goes. However, we as enlightened citizens can begin to form and enlarge a culture of responsible action, responsible both to our environment and to our fellow humans.
May you and yours responsibly enjoy this season of thanks for all of our collective blessings, and wisely start to plan for a responsible sustainable future.
Saturday, July 21st, 2012
7.4 mm 35 mm