Black Friday Blues

The day after Thanksgiving has morphed into a snapshot of our economy. The media has hyped Black Friday sales to be a thumbs up or thumbs down on the future. They tell us that it is the measurement for the shopping season and this one day will make or break business.

They have taken what used to be an extra day off for students, then a day to watch more football and made it into a political event.

I’ve watched as every year breathless TV reporters stake out a spot at a busy mall in the wee hours (and now the pre-wee hours) to flag down a shopper and ask whether they plan to spend a lot this season or not. During the Bush years, mainstream reporters affected a hope that consumers would spend, but it was always tempered by disappointment. “Retailers are seeing a good turnout,” they’d say, “but not as much as they were hoping for.” Even when the economy did well, these reporters would cling to that tinge of regret.

Since Obama has been in charge, even though the economy continues to falter, reporters’ hopes have soared. Each year it has been amusing to see the spin. News anchors repeat the hype. When sober facts surface in January attesting to a poor consumer performance, the news retreats to a less important positioning. But, by then, the initial hype has left a greater impression than the truth.

But is it really that big an indicator of economic health?

No. “Black Friday is Utterly Meaningless” reads a headline at ZeroHedgeblog. Charles Hugh Smith Of Two Minds writes, “You know the economy and stock market are in deep trouble when the Mainstream Media elevates one essentially meaningless metric to ‘the One Meaningful Statistic’ and then trumpets it slavishly. One such meaningless metric is Black Friday.

“The media has glommed onto Black Friday for a number of flawed reasons number one being the MSM’s ceaseless drive to reduce all complex problems down to something that can be expressed in a sound bite voice over and a video clip of a crowded mall.

“The MSM loves binaries: two parties, two final contestants, and if Black Friday is ‘good’ i.e. sales exceed last year’s consumerist bacchanal, then the economy is ‘healthy.’ Any weakening of the consumer’s lemming like drive to buy, buy, buy means the economy is ‘weak.’

“This is of course absolutely backward: consumers buying shiploads of poor quality crap made overseas means the economy is still on the slippery slope to implosion, as debt is being used to fund consumption while capital formation (savings) remains pathetic.

“Since most of the crap (and it is crap – most Americans have either forgotten what actual quality is or they have never experienced it) is made overseas, the ‘boost’ to the economy generated by rampant charge card consumption flows to only one slice of the U.S. economy: corporate profits.

“The cargo cult fetish of focusing on Black Friday sales is worse than meaningless – it is profoundly misleading. What the economy needs is not more mindless debt-based consumption but the exact opposite: paying down debt, reducing the share of the national income skimmed by a parasitic banking sector, a boycott of low quality crap (90% of what’s bought on Black Friday) and an evolution beyond a model of ‘growth’ that’s dependent on ever rising debt and consumption of low quality often needless junk made overseas to benefit corporate America’s bulging bottom line.”

Yesterday, after all the attention and breathless excitement of reporters, it was amusing to see the Drudge top headline: “Black Friday Spending Flat.”

I wasn’t surprised.

But besides the economic and political slant of the holiday, we’ve been adding violence to it each year. Take a look at this year’s fight over a $2 waffle maker:

Could we have a return to sanity, please?

Part of it will start by getting the media out of the story. They don’t understand it anyhow. They don’t understand that the methods by which we shop are changing and that they really don’t have a handle on the economy.

They don’t have a clue as to the mood of the American people, either. But then again, when have they?

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