OPINION — It’s always instructive to witness the Black Friday fervor sweeping across America as the shopping mobs start forming up on Thanksgiving evening.
Advertisements are carefully disclosed ahead of time so shoppers can know which loss leaders are worth standing in line for and which ones aren’t. When the doors are opened, stampedes, shoving and even fistfights erupt over items that are typically available, albeit at a fractionally higher price, both before and after Black Friday.
I recently watched a news video from 1983 depicting the Black Friday sales of that year and was struck by what a low-key event it was. Stores were crowded but not packed, and people actually seemed to be enjoying themselves as they shopped.
There was no sense of entitled urgency or the need to view other shoppers as opponents in a contest for material supremacy. What has changed since then?
There’s something more at play here than simple greed. Greed, at its most basic, is simply envy of what someone else has. For many, Black Friday has come to represent a scarcity mentality that causes people to revere an object, not for its intrinsic value or utility but for the bragging rights of having what others do not.
I’m not sure what to call that mindset. Whatever it is, it’s likely not a symptom of a healthy, functional society or culture.
It may be tempting for some to equate such selfish behavior with capitalism. This would be a mistake.
The only thing capitalism can do is to reward those ideas that genuinely bring value to people’s lives. It can only take place through voluntary exchange. This means no one is forced to do something they don’t want to do.
Paul Rosenberg, in differentiating between greed and capitalism explains:
Under capitalism, if you want someone to buy your product, you have to convince them that it’s in their best interest – you can’t force them at all. It is all 100% voluntary. And if you can force them, it isn’t capitalism.
The same greed and self(ish) interests that turn a post-holiday shopping spree into a UFC bout are what drive the calls for government to step in and make things “fair” by punishing those who produce as if they had taken advantage of the poor.
The main difference is that people who would rightly recoil at the sight of one shopper using violence to deprive another shopper of an item suddenly become complacent when the state is the entity taking things by threat of force. In fact, they act as if they have a moral duty to obey whomever is in power.
Just because government pretends its demands are moral obligations doesn’t make them so. Moral obligations ought not to rest primarily on force.
If you or I were to deprive another person of his property or life, most would recognize the injustice. When the state asserts that it can do the same thing by claiming authority to do so, the majority of people fall into line.
Few people have better explained the evil of systemized force than Joseph Sobran who wrote:
Legal forms, moral rhetoric, and propaganda may disguise force as something it is not. The idea of ‘democracy’ has persuaded countless gullible people that they are somehow ‘consenting’ when they are being coerced. The real triumph of the state occurs when its subjects refer to it as ‘we,’ like football fans talking about the home team. That is the delusion of ‘self-government.’ One might as well speak of ‘self-coercion’ or ‘self-slavery.’
Bringing this back to the idea of government force being required to keep capitalism from being too successful, who among us has the right to tell another person how much he or she can make?
Remember, under capitalism, the money that a person has made is a direct reflection of how they have benefited others who have freely chosen to do business with them. If that money was made by using government force in any form, then it wasn’t capitalism to begin with.
For all the lip service we give to the free market, very few Americans recognize that government interference – even for the best of intentions – means the market has become managed and is no longer free.
The desire to take from those who produce, while accusing them of “making too much” is based in the same primitive envy driving the materialistic madness that now typifies Black Friday. Those who call for violence-backed redistribution fail to recognize that they too could become ripe for pillaging.
One of the truest tests of our understanding of and commitment to freedom is refraining from being too interested in what others have. Envy combined with violence has led to much of the ugliness throughout human history.
The free market offers us a better way to generate wealth by creating value.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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