Witte: Shopping alone will not save economy


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Using credit to buy gifts on Black Friday and around the holidays does not help to improve the economy. Rather, it furthers the personal debt problem in America.

Jacob Witte

Thanksgiving break will soon be upon us. It is always a great time in which we can reflect on the first many weeks of the semester and be able to preview the few short weeks that we have left until Winter Break. There is food, family and general happiness that school is on break for an entire week. But those joys pale in comparison to the ultimate joy of Americans and their Thanksgiving break: shopping.

There is a lot of pressure on Americans these days. Even now, in this bleak economic climate, we are still yelled at day in and day out by television pundits, commercials and advertisements on the street to buy, buy, buy. We are told that the only way our country can continue to survive is if we go out and purchase stuff. This “stuff” that our economy now runs on is the “stuff” that used to be made in America, but now — thanks to the race to the bottom — is now produced as cheaply as possible in the countries with the fewest labor laws.

But how, we ask, are we supposed to buy the things for our loved ones if we are jobless and have no money for such extravagances? Well, that’s an easy one: Load up on credit cards, we are told.

While real wages have stagnated in the last three decades, consumer spending has risen steadily. But how is it possible that consumer spending can rise so much higher than wages? Easy answer: credit. When financial companies realize that no one is making real money anymore, money that will easily buy the things that are sold in the Walmarts and Targets of the world, the only response is to make credit cards incredibly easy to get but incredibly hard to pay off.

People are lured in by too-good-to-be-true (hint: if it is too good to be true, it usually is) interest rates (that usually only last for a few months) and slick commercials that make it appear that credit cards are the only way to go. The debt of credit cards in this country is staggering.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, Americans had compiled a total of $886 billion of credit card debt, and are expected to breach the $1 trillion level for this year. Could you imagine what our economy would be like if those were real dollars being spent in the economy and not holding people slavishly in debt? We would not even remember the Great Recession.

We Iowans may not realize this credit crisis, however, because Iowa happens to have the lowest average credit card debt in the entire country at around $4,200 per capita. So way to go, Iowa.

So here is my call to arms, comrades. This Black Friday, the 25th of November, sleep in. Pretty daunting of a task, is it not? Not only sleep in, but do not shop at all over the weekend. I know it can be hard to resist. I, like many of you, used to love the thrill of the great deal while shopping on Black Friday. I went out with the hordes before dawn seeking the best price of the best gadget of the season.

But then it dawned on me that all of it was totally unnecessary. The realization that the products sold on Black Friday — because they are produced in excessive bulk for this day and this day only, with the distinct probability that it will wear out quickly or be made defective all so it can just be sold on Black Friday — holds no symbolic importance.

There are better ways, contrary to what you will no doubt hear on economic reports through the mainstream media in the coming weeks, to get our country out of debt than through consumer spending of “stuff” on Black Friday and the holiday season. Our country needs to start making things again. America used to be an economy of production.

After World War II, America had almost half of the manufacturing capacity in the entire world. America alone accounted for one-third of the world’s exports and our exports more than doubled that of which we imported. Mere decades later, our imports now exceed our exports, and we have a negative trade balance. Something is not right with this picture.

So on the morning of Black Friday, when you are sleeping comfortably in your bed, take time to think about all the money that you are saving, and, although it may not be what the pundits on the tube want you to be doing, the message has to be heard that a country that does not make things cannot possibly survive.