Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Economy

There have been a number of Facebook posts noting the contrast between our tradition of giving thanks for what we have on Thursday, and then joining the frenzy of acquisition that begins the next day with Black Friday. (Does anyone know why we call it “Black Friday?”)

Tis the season to consume. And while it may make us feel morally superior to condemn the orgy that is the Christmas shopping season, reality is more complicated than such condemnations might suggest.

Individually, most of us don’t need the gadgets, trinkets, toys and–let’s be honest–mountains of disposable trash that we buy during this time of year. Collectively, however, our economy depends in significant measure upon the Christmas buying season. Should I complain about the forty emails I’ve already had this morning urging me to buy this or that on “cyber Monday”? Or should I hope for a robust season of buying unneeded stuff, as welcome evidence of economic recovery?

This structure of culture is what students have difficulty appreciating. Why do Americans have only two political parties? Why don’t we start another? Well–one tries patiently to explain–our entire political system grew up around a two-party reality. Changing that structure wouldn’t be impossible, exactly, but it would be a massive undertaking–far more massive than most of us appreciate.

Haven’t civil rights laws mostly eliminated racial discrimination? Well, those laws have certainly changed many behaviors. But the structure of discrimination still operates. Your company has a job opening, so you call a friend. Until your friends are truly integrated, that friend is likely to look a lot like you. Attitudes about “those people” persist. Neighborhood “complexions” change slowly. Civil rights laws nudge us toward cultural change, but the pace of that change is slow.

So what do we do about the waste inherent in a consumerist culture? On the one hand, the mountains of unneeded “stuff” pose an environmental hazard–there is enormous waste involved, energy expended, resources consumed. On the other hand, our economy depends upon the activity of buying and selling and consuming. It’s a conundrum.

Merry Christmas.


  1. I believe it is called “Black Friday” because it is the shopping day that moves the balance sheets for retailers into the black.

  2. Can’t remember where I read a few years ago that “Black Friday” refers to Christmas shoppers spending enough money the day after Thanksgiving to put stores “in the black” rather than maintaining “in the red” status. This term has spread to additional Fridays. I spend what I can afford, keeping myself out of debt, as i cannot be concerned with aiding the economy of this country on my low income…my government gifts according to Romney of Social Security and PERF. As for adding a third party; do we ever see results of those third party candidate’s votes? Or, for that matter, see their political platform during campaigns? I believe a third party, if they gained a large following, would prevent either of the two party system to secure an election. How sad that all holiday seasons have become ad campaigns to buy, buy, buy.

  3. Honestly, all this gift giving stopped in my family years ago. We used to draw names and I always had to buy something for my sister. Nowadays, the children get the gifts and the adults just share some time. That saves us all money in the long run. It’s so normal that I struggle to buy my husband a gift because I don’t just worry about it.

  4. Kevin Drum at MotherJones did a blog piece on Thursdays and looked into the origins of the name. He points out that in almost every instance if you put the word “Black” in front of a day, it has a negative connotation. Save this one instance.

    I guess it originated in Philly. Police came to be leery about large crowds surrounding the Army-Navy game and retailers were loath to deal with large children at certain stores (I gather it had something to do with it being the first day certain toys were released). At some point in the late-80s/early 90s they grabbed it up and it went national. Now when we hear Black Friday its equated with the books going from red to black. But, from what Mr Drum said it’s just them putting a positive spin on things.

Comments are closed.