I applaud the efforts of the National Buy Nothing Day campaign as well as the general idea that the December holidays should not be a socially-mandated orgy of frivilous spending. I'm guessing that if you read this site regularly you are unlikely to be the kind of person who spends post-Thanksgiving at the nearest mall, so I won't preach said message to said choir.
For the next thirty days the media (and specifically the CNBC crowd) will watch consumer spending like a nervous parent checking Baby's temperature. They are all aware, as are you and I, that for all the talk of mortgage-backed securities and the auto industry the foundation of the American economy is people buying disposable shit they don't really need. And extending them credit so they can keep buying shit when the money runs out. When people stop buying, things get nasty. And we are about to learn a harsh lesson in how swiftly a failure of consumer confidence can kick the legs out from beneath our economic house of cards.
It is easy to forget the fact that we are in the midst of considerable economic turmoil. We see plunging gas prices, we no longer read daily of bank failures, and we have elected new leaders who will undoubtedly fix everything in a few days, max. Given our society's drosophila-like attention span, those who have yet to be directly affected are quick to forget. A disappointing holiday season of consumer spending, which will prompt another wave of difficulties throughout the economy, will serve as an abrupt reminder.
My point is, the frightening thing about the economic turmoil of the past few months is that we have only experienced the beginning – and it already blows. Things are going to get worse before they get better. The banking industry and the financial markets trembled and we all felt it. But the aftershocks are forthcoming. How much Christmas shopping will a 55 year-old whose retirement account lost 30% of its value in the past six months do this year? How many gifts will be under the (insert co-opted pagan symbol of your choice) of the millions of people who have lost jobs – or the tens of millions more who fear that fate in the near future? How much shopping can we expect of people whose homes declined in value precipitously or went into foreclosure?
The current predicament of the Big Three will be the fate of other industries as well when the long-term effects of insecurity and decreased wealth hit home. The best thing for all of us to do, theoretically, is to spend as usual rather than to deny the economy our dollars. If you're like me, however, and enjoy anything less than 100% job security, you're much more likely to tell the kids that Christmas will be a little less spectacular this year and go into Unnecessary Spending Lockdown.
Sorry, retailers. I've got nothing for you.