New Article: Do Black Friday Shoppers Care About Starving Children?Saturday, December 31, 2011
Here is my latest article that is published on LewRockwell.com for the New Year weekend: “Do Black Friday Shoppers Care About Starving Children?”
I can’t help but pay attention to all of the sound bites and visual propaganda that are passed ’round the Internet without a thought, especially on Facebook. The latest “visual” that has stirred the senses of the “give me a sound bite I don’t have to think about” crowd is a new take on a very old theme – “Define Necessity.” Here’s version #976, for those who think this image is a new discovery:
This feel-good image is promoted by the same folks who spend countless $$$ on iPhones, eating out, endless purses and clothes and video games and $10 movie tickets, and other so-called “unnecessary” items.
The photo on the right is probably taken during a Black Friday, credit-card-and-bankster-fueled spending spree. No one has been more critical of the Fed-fueled and therefore crazed consumerism typified by Black Friday than I have, much to the chagrin of some of my readers. After all, as individuals and as a society, we need to save much more and spend much less, if we want prosperity. Keynes was wrong here, too, of course. But are spenders, even nutty spenders, responsible for poverty, starvation, and degradation here or in other countries? Of course, not. However, these two images, as spliced together, convey an inconsistent meaning, one that the simpleton folks who promote the image can’t seem to grasp.
The image of the shopping frenzy, on the right, may not be very appealing, at least to me, because the people in the picture are pursuing plastic toys and other useless crap. My own personal opinion is that most kids have too much junk – needless toys that sit around on the floor and become the broken remains of someone’s hard-earned dollars. Thus the mass of consumer bozos, on the right, may deserve much criticism for their behavior, financial recklessness, and addiction to subsidized credit, but they live in America, a country where, in spite of the oppressive statism and economic tyranny from Washington D.C., and the pillaging of Main Street from the Wall Street banksters, they can still utilize enough of the (limited) free market forces to bring comfort, leisure, some excess, and previously unaffordable luxuries to their lives. This is, and should be, the goal of any enlightened society experiencing technological advancement and increasing productivity.
Unfortunately, so many people are taken intellectual prisoner by cheap images and dime store sloganeering. What the image-driven masses don’t understand is how people become poor and stay poor. The photo on the left certainly seems to invoke all kids of emotional impulses and knee-jerk reactions prior to the brain cells kicking in. We see grotesque, malnourished children reaching for … something … probably food. The folks who spend approximately 10 seconds processing this image, and draw the wrong conclusions, don’t take into account the fact that the world is awash with food. Too much food – especially grains – is subsidized by governments (especially the U.S.) to produce high profit margins for corporate state giants, and then this very profitable slop is paid for with government tax plunder and shipped overseas to Third World countries.
These Third World governments, usually comprised of gangs of self-serving tyrants at perpetual war with one another, have no mechanisms for the distribution of food to the masses in need. There is little infrastructure because there are few, if any, private interests willing to take on the financial risk that is necessary to acquire and sustain long-term business interests. Capitalist production is not attracted to an economy that offers no infrastructure and no private property, and where the threat of currency risk, political violence, and the expropriation of assets will exceed the potential for doing business in the region. Moreover, the most valuable human capital that is churned out in the Third World will often migrate overseas to countries where suffering is less rampant and freedom is more accessible.
Children in Third World countries, as shown in the photo above, suffer from malnutrition and death because of perverted political practices that influence purchasing power, food prices, and distribution practices. Additionally, government policy purposefully engenders discriminatory inequality that starves and enslaves the masses while the elites in power retain and grow their prosperity. Meanwhile, US intervention abroad supports and sustains these corrupt Third World governments, while military and economic punishment is used against those who oppose US foreign policy ideals.
Still, the propaganda about starving children is run on late-night television, in short-term time slots, telling people they “must do something” to solve all of the chaos in the world. These images are permanently stamped into the minds of the public-schooled masses who succumb to the pressure to feel guilty for their “luxuries” – cars, toys, iPads, and Swedish massages – while other people elsewhere don’t seem to have the bare necessities of life.
The unruly Black Friday spend-a-thon brigade, as pictured in the poster, has absolutely nothing to do with the malnourished children on the left. The two scenarios cannot be properly used, one against the other, in order to convey that the excessive shopper should feel guilty for his spoils. The shopper who suddenly develops a guilt trip and thus spurns purchases of superabundance does not benefit the starving, shelter-lacking children because he foregoes the Animal Planet mechanical dinosaur or Nintendo 3DS. The economic life of participants in the global economy is not a zero sum game.
Yet, Facebook defenders of the mindless posters claim that it is constructive to remind people of their excesses while others around the world suffer. I’ll quote one commenter on Facebook whose statement about the meaning of the poster was very representative of what I have seen on all of the poster threads:
It is recommending that we reexamine what we “need” in light of how people in other parts of the world are in “need” of the basics (food, water, shelter) to survive.
This would only be true from the point of the image-maker who directs the visual propaganda at the uneducated and hype-stimulated masses. Folks who are not knowledgeable of the complexities of global economics and political systems don’t understand why these people in the Third World are in “need.” They don’t understand that governments drive these needs that go unsatisfied due to the state’s monopoly on power and coercion, and the use of these tools to oppress and enslave.
It is indeed unfortunate that the advancement of our standard of living has come to be reflected by gaggles of sheeple busting through the doors of Best Buy at midnight on Black Friday to fight for TVs, bluetooth headsets, and puerile video games. But this mentality is borne out of a culture in which government monetary and political policy has long discouraged long-term planning among individuals while cultivating a society of immediate gratification.
Another version of the same puffery comes courtesy of the Apple Haters who use a computer, the Internet, and probably a Photoshop program – or similar – to publish posters online about how technology is not a necessity, especially considering all of the starving children in the Third World.
In spite of being a huge Apple fan, I only recently got my first iPad, almost two years after its initial release. I purchased it because I knew it would be an indispensible tool – a path to better productivity for writing, blogging, and reading. Accordingly, since “necessity” is subjective to each individual, and since I have fulfilled all of life’s basic needs (food, clothing, shelter), the iPad can be viewed as a necessity for my particular lifestyle and needs. My mother doesn’t “need” an iPad, but I did need one. But then again, I don’t need a medical ID bracelet, as she does. Each time I pick up my iPad I am reminded of the fact that entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, in spite of oppressive regulation, taxation, and political redistribution in the First World, took their visions from inception to reality by working through the market process and serving the customer and benefitting civilization overall.
As I began to think about purchasing an iPad, I admit that I never gave a single to thought to starving children in Africa, or how owning an iPad would somehow render my heart cold and cruel, removing me from examining the real world through a necessity lens. One thing I do think about every single day, however, is the monopoly that governments have on power and coercion, and how they use this to initiate force; inflict violence; suppress human initiative; extract and redistribute wealth; and generally, create conflicting social classes by way of political scheming and powerful propaganda.
When Steve Jobs passed away in October of 2011, a surge of anti-Apple literature quickly circulated on the Internet, regurgitating the old theme on a new platform. The purveyors of the image were perturbed that so many people could care about one man – a visionary, artist, creator, entrepreneur – who had done so much during his short life to slice through institutional barriers and political systems to bring us one of the first commercially successful computers. Whether or not you like Apple products, Steve Jobs has enriched the lives of millions of people, and his products have inspired functionality and elegance that is unsurpassed in the world of technology.
Due to the omnipotence of government on a universal scale, we, as individuals, are not able to feed, clothe, and shelter all of the starving children in the Third World, no matter how much we are moved by images of exploitation abroad. Private efforts frequently do rally around defined causes, and sometimes they are successful at providing incremental comfort to small bands of an impoverished population. But, on a larger scale, these efforts do nothing to strike at the root of evil and corruption borne by unlimited government power on a worldwide scale.
So the lesson is not whether or not your shopping binge is a necessity – need is subjective to each individual, and need cannot be assessed collectively. And the lesson is not to reexamine our needs and measure them against the needs of others to assess and compare practicality.
The lesson is that we, as individuals, have to recognize that we should not bear any load of guilt concerning the prosperity that we acquire in spite of the economic barriers that are placed in front of us. Instead, we should continue to work outside of the political system to dismantle stifling regulations and political impediments that keep people poor, and we can assist in this effort by first emphasizing and delegitimizing the root cause of poverty and oppression in all parts of the world – the state. To quote Wendy McElroy, from her article “Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler.”
A state’s power rests on social conditions, such as whether people will obey its laws and how many resources it can command to enforce obedience. A key social condition is how legitimate the state is seen to be. For without the veil of legitimate authority, the people will not obey the state, and it will not long command the resources, such as taxes and manpower, that it needs to live.
The folks who attempt to build opinion based on the careless spreading of hollow imagery are merely duplicating the tactics of the puppeteers who desire to keep them ignorant. They are enforcing the legitimacy of the state by helping to spread propaganda that claims the world’s most complex problems are explained by simple solutions – thereby eliminating the need for further introspection as to the origin of human misery and institutional barriers to freedom and abundance around the world.
Our time and energy is better spent on exposing the depravity of state power rather than claiming that spendthrift shopaholics are degenerate cretins for rising above the living standards of the world’s impoverished peoples.