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DANIEL VAUGHAN: In defense of Black Friday
When Thanksgiving comes around each November, it’s not uncommon to hear people saying that it’s such a shame that Americans go from giving thanks for our blessings on one day to rushing out to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on material things the next — sometimes, just hours after dinner.
But while I understand the sentiment being expressed by Black Friday naysayers, I think this viewpoint misses one of the most incredible things about the day after Thanksgiving: it stands alone as the one day when Americans of all races, religions, and class celebrate being able to purchase a multitude of products — for themselves and for each other.
Put another way, there’s no higher mark of American exceptionalism than Black Friday. Our economy allows us the opportunity to jump into the fray and buy at reduced prices — and you won’t find a similar phenomenon in any other era of history.
It’s fitting that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are paired together. Both days show the depth of both American capitalism and American culture to provide every single thing you could want for yourself and your loved ones.
On Thanksgiving, we joke about overeating and long tables filled with every kind of food imaginable. I have friends whose Thanksgiving traditions including sharing steaks and making their family’s traditional turkey lasagna. These families fit right in with the traditional Thanksgiving dinners of turkeys alongside all the sides and desserts of the season.
But aside from all the jokes, it’s remarkable that we have a modern market that’s capable of producing every food you can visualize in excess, allowing us all to feast in ways old kings and kingdoms could merely imagine.
People made fun of President Herbert Hoover’s campaign promise of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” at the time. But we’ve accomplished this very feat. On Thanksgiving, estimates are that Americans shared 46 million turkeys. Still, if you venture out to a grocery store after Thanksgiving, you’ll find leftover turkeys on sale because stores didn’t sell all of their available stock.
For much of history, humans fought against food shortages, famine, and malnutrition. Only the very top of the pecking order — kings and their loyal subjects — were allowed enjoying the ultimate fruits of the land. On Thanksgiving, we celebrate and give thanks on a day when we eat food that puts all the old kingdoms to shame.
And on Black Friday, everyone has a chance to go out and buy endless products that could make their lives better in ways ancient civilizations could never imagine. More to the point, Americans have been celebrating the fruits and labors of this land for our entire history.
There was a recent tweet that made some waves comparing socialism and capitalism. Its author claimed that socialism was waiting in a line to get bread for free, whereas capitalism was waiting in line to pay for food.
What’s the problem with that tweet? Those breadlines existed because the entire economy of the USSR existed in a state of regular bread and food shortages. The grain shortage was so severe throughout the history of the USSR that the U.S. kept them afloat by exporting our excess grain. We shipped so much grain to them that we occasionally used tariffs and other trade powers to choke off their supply in an attempt to goad them into better behavior.
Breadlines and “free bread” are a sign of weakness — and socialism has never proven it’s capable of producing what the people desire and need. People always live in want and poverty under that system. And Thanksgiving and Black Friday wouldn’t be possible in the USSR; the state would hide that level of economic success from the people’s knowledge.
Black Friday isn’t something that should be attacked or scorned. It’s okay if you don’t want to participate. But it remains a day that should be celebrated as a small sign of American exceptionalism. We produce more than enough for ourselves, and we create wealth for others.
On Thanksgiving, we celebrate by joining family and friends to give thanks for all of this wealth. On Black Friday, we continue celebrating by purchasing goods for those same people.
Love it or hate it, Thanksgiving and Black Friday are signs that Americans go beyond petty politics and genuinely care for one another. This season is a sign we’re near the pinnacle of power and success, both in the world and across history. So go out and enjoy it — and don’t feel guilty about anything.
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