Happy Buy Nothing Day!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy November 25th! Most Americans probably know today as Black Friday, but it has another name: Buy Nothing Day.

Buy Nothing Day is a holiday created by artist Ted Dave. It's not clear what his motivations were - perhaps he wanted to get his name in the papers, or maybe he just wanted an excuse to explain why no one was buying his art. The details have been lost to the sands of time.

In any case, many people swear to buy absolutely nothing on this holiday. This social statement is pointless for two reasons:

  1. Time shifting - There is no evidence that total spending is actually reduced. Rather than shopping for items on the 25th, folks simply buy what they want on an earlier date. Not only does this act not hurt corporations, but it actually helps them! They receive revenue earlier than usual and can clear out inventory more quickly.
  2. Semantic dishonesty - It's possible to buy something without realizing it. Do you think any of these "Buy Nothing Day" people have recurring bills for items like water, heat, electricity, telephone, or health insurance? Even though these "non-buyers" may have kept their wallets closed, they've used a service for which payment is required. This sounds an awful lot like a purchase to me. The same is true if any of these people consumed any food at all, unless that food was given as a donation or acquired via a five-finger discount. The fact that these people have bought something is just hidden from their minds.

If the result of Buy Nothing Day were a net neutral, I'd be OK with it. My suspicion, however, is that it is used as a form of conspicuous conservation. Adherents obtain increased social capital and an inflated sense of moral superiority by avoiding visible purchases on this one day. As a result, these folks may come to believe that they've "earned the right" to purchase additional items throughout the rest of the year.

Much like those looking to improve their physiques, supporters of this silly holiday need to learn that meaningful change does not come from a single day of altered behavior. Rather, meaningful change is the result of a modification to one's lifestyle.

Rather than taking part in Buy Nothing Day, people who are upset by materialism should simply commit themselves to buying less throughout the year.

Unfortunately, doing so is a whole lot harder - and far less glamorous.

I, for one, am going to take full advantage of this unofficial holiday. The more people who choose to "buy nothing" today, the shorter the lines will be for me.

P.S. If you're going to buy something today, why not grab one of my books on product pricing? If you're still adamant about not purchasing anything today, don't worry. You can still buy a copy tomorrow.