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Shopped to death 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

The New York Times described Jdimytai Damour as “a gentle giant...known to his friends as Jimbo, or Jdidread because of his dreadlocks.” He loved to talk about movies, Japanese anime and politics. The 34-year-old temporary maintenance worker at a Long Island Wal-Mart was trampled to death last month by rampaging shoppers rushing to get bargains on DVDs and big-screen TVs. It happened on Black Friday, the day after American Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the US Christmas shopping season. It also coincided with Buy Nothing Day, the annual 24-hour protest against the consumerism that propels the North American economy.

Yes, economic statistics reflect the reality of the wry slogan “shop till you drop.” In the US, household consumption accounts for more than two-thirds of the national economy, while in Canada it’s well over half. No wonder George Bush keeps urging Americans to shop. If consumer spending dips, the economy shrinks and we’re all in deep shit. No wonder advertisers spend $294 billion a year in the US and $11 billion in Canada urging us to keep on buying. No wonder household debt is climbing. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians and Americans have been spending more than they earn for the last six years. That’s partly because home and car loans have been easy to get while credit cards with sky-high spending limits have been thrust into the hands of practically anyone with a pulse.

For the well-off middle class, rising debt didn’t matter as long as their jobs were secure and the value of their houses and retirement savings kept rising. The current economic meltdown is sweeping that security away as well-

paying jobs disappear, house prices tank and pension money evaporates. It looks like more of the debt-ridden middle class will join the ranks of the poor, already the main victims of the “shop till you drop” mentality. The five million Canadians living below the poverty line are almost invisible in mainstream media and many of us don’t have a clue how an economy based on personal consumption affects them. Most people don’t know, for example, that welfare recipients are worse off now than they were in 1989, just before the last major economic meltdown.

Right-wing politicians responded to the recession of the early 1990s by using it as an excuse to slash social programs. Welfare and unemployment insurance went on the chopping block as well as subsidies for affordable housing, child care, higher education and public transit. In other words, the pols waged war on ballooning government deficits caused by sky-high interest rates and a sluggish economy by cutting public support for the poor. After economic conditions improved and government budget surpluses started accumulating, the politicians lowered taxes instead of restoring social programs. It was a popular way of putting money into the pockets of well-heeled consumers. It was also a way of reducing public spending to free more money up for private consumption. In the meantime, the pols kept minimum wages so low that even if the working poor had full-time McJobs, they couldn’t hope to reach the poverty line. In an economy dominated by personal consumption, low minimum wages help keep prices low and low prices encourage the better-off to keep buying. That’s also the logic behind our politicians’ support for a world trading system that brings an abundance of cheap sweatshop goods from the Third World to store shelves near you.

Which brings us back to Jdimytai Damour. The AP news agency reported he had no training in crowd control. Because of his hulking frame, the six-foot-five-inch, 270-pound Damour was sent to the Wal-Mart entrance at 5am to hold back about 2,000 shoppers. But he was overwhelmed by the stampeding buyers who broke through the doors. Jdimytai Damour became a direct victim of rampant consumerism. The rest of us suffer indirectly whether we know it or not.

Got a better suggestion for organizing an economy? Let Bruce know at
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Vol 25, No 42
March 15, 2018

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