“Black Friday” is famously America’s biggest shopping day of the year. The sales are spectacular. There are some great deals out there. If you can stomach the onslaught, more power to you in seeking deals and stretching your dollar.
But don’t mistake “Black Friday” for a celebration of the free market. That comes the day after, on “Small Business Saturday.”
Libertarians and conservatives tend to champion the frenzied consumerism of “Black Friday” as a glorious affirmation of capitalism and markets, but really it’s just a Big Business bacchanal — the high holiday of anti-market privilege, a form of communion in which cheap DVD players and surprise deals are served up as the symbolic body and blood of massive government subsidies to big-box retailers.
The consumers aren’t to blame. Aside from the occasional deadly Xbox stampede, they’re generally well behaved. However, they’re reacting uncritically to the existing conditions of the market, seeking only to maximize their short-term personal utility.
The same can’t be said of corporate apologists who know better but who check the details of institutional privilege at the door for propagandistic purposes. State policy intentionally skews the economic balance in favor of wealthy, geographically diverse corporations at the expense of more locally oriented and responsible firms. Conservatives claim fidelity to free market ideology while actually promoting a neoliberal mixed economy, which hopelessly muddles the political discourse, tricking people into thinking legitimate free markets are responsible for corporate centralism.
Without analyzing the first orders of production and later American homegrown privileges, let’s skip to the transportation processes. The primary cost of port construction and maintenance is subsidized by the taxpayer rather than paid for through user fees from those who actively use the infrastructure.
Loaded onto trucks, products make their way to shelves via the interstate highway system, where the average traveler subsidizes the high-tonnage haulers. This subsidy is reflected in retail prices: You pay extra at the gas pump for that discount on Aisle Three, in the process privileging distant producers at the expense of local actors. Not only does this divert resources and deplete the environment, it incentivizes massive economic centralization. Thanks, “free market!”
Conservatives defend the existing economic order as “free” in an effort to maintain the moral high ground, and understandably so. If they admit that the American economy is taxpayer-subsidized to the benefit of the elite they court (gasp) “class warfare.” This is a scary euphemism for when people question the legitimacy of existing property “rights” claims. As well they should. Becoming rich through the power of the state rather than through unsubsidized productivity is a veiled form of unjust wealth redistribution. Read: Theft.
Without free banking, you might have to use statist banks. With subsidized crops, intellectual property and tariffed alternatives, you may have to eat Monsanto’s frankenfood. You may not even be aware of what is happening or that alternatives exist.
Even the big box retailers I’ve named might not be explicitly evil or actively seek to subvert markets; they react to the political economy in the most self-advantageous manner, and who can blame them? But that doesn’t mean you have to affirm their choices by patronizing them
Showing up at the big boxes on “Black Friday” is no affirmation of “free markets” or capitalism. If that’s your goal, support the underdogs on Small Business Saturday, striking a blow with your dollar against anti-market forces which attempt to direct that dollar to distant, privileged producers on “Black Friday.” Environmentalists, consistent free market thinkers, and community producers of the world, unite!