Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Chief Business of the American People...

“The chief business of the American people is business.” That’s Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and the quote came to mind right after Hallowe’en when the Christmas (we say ‘Christmas’) decorations began appearing in stores and Black Friday special offers started filling the inbox.

At about the same time, the Republican Party said the American people provided them with some sort of mandate by rejecting the President’s leadership and giving them a Congressional majority and a chance (again) to govern. We’ll wait to see which Republican Party shows up to govern when it comes to immigration reform, climate change, health care and the Islamic State. Or will it be abortion, gay marriage and the right to open carry?

People always say the economy is a primary concern when voting for candidates and issues but who really faults the President’s leadership in our recovery from the economic disaster he inherited upon taking office? The disgruntled are those who wanted to see real change in financial reform and the banks and brokerage houses punished; those folks remain embittered at the President. Democratic incumbents and candidates never rallied around the chant, “It’s the economy, stupid,” tacitly conceding that maybe we weren’t better off today than we were two years ago.  We didn’t see the financial system reformed; we didn’t see tax reform. What we saw was employment and the stock market recovering, wages stagnant, the gap between rich and poor widen. But did people really want “real” change?

After all, this is a capitalist country and “The chief business of the American people is business.” It’s a relentless business: the bizarre coupling of “holiday” (holy day) with “retail” has become an established norm and hawked in the vocabulary of words like “special” and “savings” and “exclusive”-- nonsense, of course, like restaurants that serve “breakfast” all day. Hallowe’en is a big retail holiday; people don’t buy gifts for Thanksgiving, it only makes sense to begin the business of selling holiday gifts right after Hallowe’en.

The church bazaars and holiday craft sales gear up in November and I like those. I think the advertising efforts of the big box stores, Amazon and online spamming are distasteful. But that’s business, isn’t it? What feels so distastefully wrong when experiencing the barrage of every special retail holiday message year round is the lie that all of the American people can fully take part in the business of America. You still drink the Kool Aid that says everyone could become a millionaire? Sure, everyone can and will participate as consumers but more and more people are excluded from doing business as Americans because of their education, immigration status and race. That’s not the way it always was in this country; that’s the way it is now and that is the real sadness of the broken dream of failing to move towards “real change.”

Ring those retail holiday bells; they toll for thee.

--Mike Sato


  1. Well said, Mike. I couldn't agree more. It's appalling how big-box shopping has become a recreational activity, a placebo for happiness and, as you so aptly put it, a "holy" activity in our society. It's hard to "do" Christmas these days without having to engage in this soul-sucking frenzy, so no wonder some of us prefer to completely opt out of the whole affair.

    I am currently reading Naomi Klein's excellent book, "This Changes Everything". She does such a great job of connecting the dots - I wish everyone would read it. In fact, if there's a Christmas present worth buying for anyone on our lists, this book is it.

  2. Mike is becoming a bit of a curmudgeon! But yes - as I heard the other day - Thanksgiving has become road kill on the economic highway to Christmas! I will try to find that book. Thanks.

  3. Thanks to Amy for forwarding: "As you battle through the crowds shopping for presents over the coming month take time to think about all the organisation involved in Christmas. Professor Philip Hancock, work and organisation expert from Essex Business School, argues there is a lot more to the global cultural and economic than people realize…" The real business behind the dream Christmas


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