Friday, November 26, 2010

Greed Friday. Friday, November 26, 2010.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Today in the United States, it’s a bizarre “holiday” of sorts – Black Friday. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season, when retailers make their biggest profits of the year and “go into the black.”

Unlike many Americans, I didn’t get to the stores at 3 a.m. with a fistful of shopping circulars, pushing other people down to acquire the top-selling gift this year (whatever that is). Luckily, I have to work today, so maybe I have an excuse not to observe this “holiday” by shopping.

Actually, I made an agreement with my family that this year: we will all purchase second-hand Christmas gifts at the thrift store. That way, we’ll save money during this time of economic uncertainty; the money we do spend will support non-profit organizations; and we won’t be supporting sweatshops in China and India. But in a way, this makes me a bad American. People have bought so little the last couple of years, it’s affected the retail and manufacturing industries, costing many people their jobs.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” said corrupt billionaire investor Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” “Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” But at the end of the film, Gekko goes to prison. It was greed that caused the economic crash at the end of 2007 and the resulting Recession. And strangely, it will be a kind of greed that will promote an economic recovery – people will need to start buying again (hopefully American-made goods) in order for others to go back to work. Thrift is a good thing individually, but a bad thing for society as a whole.

It was the fear of losing my income that triggered a major depressive episode. It’s the ongoing fear of the same that keeps my emotional recovery from being complete. But if anyone thinks I’m materialistic, they’ve got me wrong.

For some people, money represents “stuff.” People who are addicted to consumption soothe their depression by acquiring more and more things. I once had a boss who would come into the office every week with some incredibly expensive article of clothing – a $500 Prada sweater, or a $700 pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. She eventually ran her business into the ground and lost her “McMansion” as well.

For me, money represents security. I bought a little house so we would have a place to live and as an investment toward retirement, not as a showpiece to brag about. I bought an economy car to get from Point A to Point B. I carry significant credit card debt not because of “stuff” I bought, but because I was forced to use credit to purchase health care coverage when I lost a job six years ago. I’m more worried about money than about anything else, but not because I want a Prada or a pair of Blahniks. It’s because I want a secure place to live, a car that works, and medical care.

I know several people that say they’re not worried about money. Interestingly, they’re pretty well off. Strangely in our society, one must have a certain amount of purchasing power to live “simply.” Several years ago I purchased a book on how to live the simple life. Suggestions included driving a hybrid car, eating organic foods, and using various herbal supplements rather than prescription medications. Frankly, I can’t afford to practice these forms of “simplicity.”

It’s early afternoon, and Reuters has reported that Black Friday shopping has increased from a year ago. I’m relieved about that. Maybe it means things are turning around. Maybe layoffs will continue to slow. Even though I’m not celebrating this “holiday,” I want it to be successful. The security of millions – not just the greedy – depends on it.

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