The Capitalist’s Dilemma

Every year the movement against stores opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday, now sometimes called “Black Thursday,” seems to gain strength while store openings keep impinging on an appropriate time to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal, unless there are people who have it for breakfast. I love people expressing opinions. I’m the only person I know who wishes more people expressed their opinions more often. I just wish more of those opinions would be more rounded and malleable. I wish all the people expressing opinions were doing just as much listening and listening with a willingness to have their perspectives broadened. The enemy here is retail. All the sudden retail is encroaching on our family time like an invading army. The victims are the people who have to abandon family gatherings early or miss them altogether for corporations to profit. I guess the people waiting in line to take advantage of deals, that sometimes the corporations in stiff competition among each other actually lose money on, are people who haven’t seen someone’s pledge on social media to not shop on Thanksgiving.

I used to work at a restaurant that missed its annual goal, and the company’s response was to adopt a policy that missing this goal was “everyone’s fault.” They clearly instructed management to go around and ask us individually whose fault it was that we didn’t make sales, and after we stood there for a while not knowing how to answer, they would look around at the entire store and point a thumb or finger at themselves, and say, “it’s everyone’s fault, right?” And we would nod to escape. Then talk about how creepy and kind of cultish that seemed. I remember one buddy I’d been working with for a long time saying to me, “It wasn’t our fault. We worked here, last year, when we made sales.” Which I laughed and agreed with but now see made no sense.

Since, I’ve actually found that thinking rather useful. Black Friday sales events moving into Thursday is clearly a reflection of us all. The only people not complicit are the ones who don’t shop. If there are people waiting in lines to get into stores, are we really surprised that first one store and then like a house of cards the rest started opening earlier? The only heroes in this story are the ones who sacrifice, missing the deals, to take a stand for their principles. And, as I said before, I love opinions, but that’s just one. Pledge it on social media, show up at a store holding a sign (still impinging on your holiday but for the greater good), and if it speaks to enough people maybe the trend will be reversed: lines will grow shorter and stores will start to move their opening times back closer to Friday. It’s not going to happen next year but it could happen in ten years. In the meantime, it will take some people deciding they’re bothered enough to give up cashing in on door buster deals. They’ll have to buy their TV, their game system for their kids’ Christmas at full price. That’s the capitalist’s dilemma. I suspect that’s why there is so much ire directed at stores, because half the people in that line hate that they’re in that line on Thanksgiving when they want to be in it on Friday, but what are they supposed to do? That’s when the sale starts. So it’s the store’s fault so it doesn’t have to be theirs. Whose fault is it? Everyone’s. It’s everyone’s fault.

Stores face the same dilemma. If they’re still closed for the holiday while people are rushing through the doors of the competitor down the street, they lose money and could, eventually, be closed permanently. They could just as easily be secretly directing ire at people’s willingness to come in so damn early. If these lines hadn’t started forming five hours before we open Friday morning, we could have kept enjoying our holiday. (I don’t think the higher ups at these stores decide anything based on enjoying their holidays, but stores opening earlier does cut into their profits because of the costs of operation, so they would likely prefer this hadn’t moved into Thanksgiving, too.)

So what’s to be done? Nothing. We’ll see what happens. That’s how capitalism works. Unless we want the government involved, banning stores from opening on arbitrary days of the year or pricing them out of opening by making them pay their employees even more extra than they already have to, at time and a half, we’ll just keep expressing our opinions on the subject and if enough people agree and take stands, the stores will adapt. It will take people foregoing the deals, simultaneously making it easier for the people who don’t forego those deals to capitalize on them, for at least a year, probably a few, and my cynicism says not enough people will sacrifice that to effect a change. On Easter Island, trees were the economy. If you’re not familiar with what happened on Easter Island, I recommend reading the chapter in Collapse by Jared Diamond that covers it, which I also wrote about in a blog here:

Every tree on the island was uprooted. A massive population crash followed. We can only guess the thinking of the humans who lived and died through that, but it seems likely they divided into factions. Some denied what was clearly happening around them, some probably tried desperately to survive without participating in the destruction of their isolated world, and probably some thought we really shouldn’t be uprooting all these trees but if my neighbor is uprooting his share I’m damn well uprooting my share, too.

This certainly isn’t a life and death matter, it’s a matter of arranging family time, though, which is important. I work in retail and I don’t get bothered by having to work odd hours around Thanksgiving. My family is so far spread out we don’t meet up on Thanksgiving. I tell my mom I might have to eat and run and that’s about as inconvenienced as I get, but I’m sensitive to the situations of others. Some people have rare extended gatherings disrupted by having to fit work in and that’s a big deal, for them, but that’s the society we live in. We all have to accept responsibility within that system. If it’s disruptive enough, look for work somewhere outside of that sphere. Keep vigilant about expressing your opinion on the issue and hopefully it gains momentum.

If it were up to me, Black Friday would start on Friday at around eight AM, but it’s not up to me, it’s up to everyone, and everyone has it moved into Thanksgiving. Everyone will have to get involved to move it back. If it’s important enough to everyone. It’s not important enough to me. I look at is as I come in and do my job and some kid gets a nice Christmas out of it. Movie theaters are open on Christmas and a lot of families enjoy an afternoon or evening at the movies as part of their Christmas tradition. So some people have to work at movie theaters to accommodate that. All around the world we’re mining aquifers at far faster rates than they’re being refilled. We’re releasing gases into the atmosphere at alarming rates and ignoring warnings, almost gleefully, from the people who study this stuff inside and out, basically trusting that our babies and unborn will be smart enough to clean up after us, so stores opening on an arbitrary holiday is low on my list. That might seem like a non sequitor and you’re welcome to disagree with my decision to tack those two issues onto this, but my opinion is that these are similar dilemmas, just the stakes are higher.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s