Buy Nothing Day

In the current economic climate, Buy Nothing Day is likely to raise more hackles than ever before in its 17-year history. I suspect that even those Americans who recognize the ultimate futility of our consumer-based culture may be experiencing — as I am — a nagging little internal voice doubting whether it’s such a good idea to encourage consumers to tighten their wallets up even further, given the state of the economy. As in, how much worse might it get if retailers have their worst Christmas ever? As in, maybe a little consumer spending might be the right medicine to get things rolling again in the near term, and never mind for the moment that it’s a house of cards long term — we’ll figure that out later.

But, as Adbusters adamantly urges, the truth is that in the end we’ll all be better off if we confront the root problem head on:

“Suddenly, we ran out of money and, to avoid collapse, we quickly pumped liquidity back into the system. But behind our financial crisis a much more ominous crisis looms: we are running out of nature… fish, forests, fresh water, minerals, soil. What are we going to do when supplies of these vital resources run low? There’s only one way to avoid the collapse of this human experiment of ours on Planet Earth: we have to consume less.”

Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn:

“If you dig a little past the surface you’ll see that this financial meltdown is not about liquidity, toxic derivatives or unregulated markets, it’s really about culture. It’s our culture of excess and meaningless consumption — the glorified spending and borrowing of the past decade that’s at the root of the crisis we now find ourselves in. A simpler, pared-down lifestyle – one in which we’re not drowning in debt – may well be the answer to this crisis we’re in. Living within our means will also make us happier and healthier than we’ve been in years.”

And Adbusters, masters of the meme, have a new name for the dawning era: The Age of Post-Materialism. Buy it?

27 Responses to “Buy Nothing Day”

  1. david

    while I agree with the ideas behind Buy Nothing Day, I think we’re better off supporting something less extreme and less divisive. How about instead of buy nothing… buy small and buy local?

    http://www.citystimulus.com/

    I think this is a great program that is much more realistic and seems much more in line with the goal of smart development. We don’t want to stop development, we want smart development, so instead of pushing for stopping consumption, lets push for smarter consumption. BUY LOCAL!!

  2. vc

    Sorry, I’m with the buy nothing-ers. Shifting consumption to local doesn’t fix an extremely broken holiday that’s *built* around consumption.

    Buy local and you only prolong the lifestyle that got us into this unsustainable mess.

  3. Dan Staley

    Consumption is consumption. No need to slap a label on it.

    Someone asked EO Wilson some years ago what was the carrying capacity of the earth. He replied with something like ‘250 million if they consume like Japan and America.’

    We don’t need any more cr*p. And we’d do just fine with a few more of these days every year.

    I = PAT.

  4. david

    Yeah OK I agree that on this particular day it’s probably better to buy nothing just because of the ridiculous excesses that so many people go to. But I think encouraging people to never buy anything is just way too extreme, and will only serve to alienate people who don’t already agree with the basic underlying message. I think the best thing we can do to encourage a healthy economy is to buy small, local, handmade goods. Buying a handmade, high quality local product that is made in a responsible and sustainable way absolutely does not does not “prolong the lifestyle that got us into” this mess. Moving back to sustainable local economies is a fundamental shift from how we have been living the past 50 or so years, and is not, in my view, just putting lipstick on the pig of consumerism. (sorry to bring back that metaphor I couldn’t think of a better way to put it!)

    I’m kind of surprised that Dan B and the commenters are so supportive of the ‘buy nothing’ idea, considering the focus of this blog is smart growth. I know I’m repeating myself but my thought is

    buying nothing = no economic growth
    buying local and sustainable = smart economic growth.

  5. joshuadf

    As a species we produce and consume more than we need on a day to day basis in order to support specializations (such as architects and engineers). However, that does not mean we need to consume an ever-increasing amount. In fact we can have a smart growth consumption ecosystem: who created this product under what conditions, what structures (such as roads for big-box stores) supported bringing it to us, and so on.

  6. Michelle Eggers

    Thanks for the note, David. I think you’re totally right. I think we’ve always had the same issue – how much or what we’re buying but what kind of choices are we making with our dollars? What are we voting for?

    Which is why I’m working with a group to promote a local economy effort this holiday season – City Stimulus.

    For four days (December 4-7), local businesses on Capitol Hill are offering special discounts.

    You should come. Shop smart this season. Support the community.

  7. dan bertolet

    Hey David and Michelle, thanks for letting us know about City Stimulus. The Adbusters crew would totally agree with you that buying local is a good thing.

    But I do think we still have to be careful about our rates of consumption, even if it’s local or “green.”

    Guess what: Today I spent $100 at a local independent retailer for a Christmas gift that was made in China. If I could get such a thing made locally, which I can’t cause it isn’t, it would probably cost $1000. What are ya gonna do?

  8. Dan Staley

    City Stimulus: yay.

    The purpose of Buy Nothing Day is to draw attention to the sheer amount of cr*p we purchase, many of it stimulated by advertisements that make us feel bad but their product will fix that bad feeling! *heart*!!!!!

    At any rate, BND is a good idea. The altar of Economic Growth = Good needs to go away. In my view we’d be better off with a more Jeffersonian Democracy, but WTO, IMF, World Bank have ruined that dream and until the planet eschews this dangerous system, BND will be the way to go until the time comes when City Stimulus works as an idea made real on the ground.

  9. wes

    Every Black friday is a BND for me. I don’t want to get trampled, have little patience for waiting in Soviet era lines, and can’t stand being in a huge department store cramped to the gills with tons of moronic people buying stuff just because it is 50% off.

    David, I don’t think the premise behind BND is to stop consuming. Afterall, we do need to eat, cloth ourselves, yada yada. I think the premise is to discontinue the over consumption that our economy has become dependent upon. Shame on the Western World for basing economies of hundreds of millions of people upon buying tons of junk with money we don’t have. No wories david and michelle, the consumption I do make, I attempt localizing it to the degree possible. Right now, that is mostly food and soap.

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