Some Numbers to Ponder

Over the past weekend, $52,400,000,000 was spent by 223 million shoppers in the orgy of consumerism that now stains the four days of the calendar bookended by Thanksgiving and Advent Sunday.

For just 40% that amount, a supply of clean, safe water could be provided for the nearly one billion humans who currently live without it.  



I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’ . . .  (I will spare you the sort of rant I made last year at this time). 



8 thoughts on “Some Numbers to Ponder

  1. Kent Will

    I get your point, and I despise Black Friday as much as the next fellow…but aren't you in danger of sounding like a certain ex-disciple? "That perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!":-)


  2. Brad Littlejohn

    Heh. Well, whatever criticisms might be mounted, I don't see how that one applies. If all that money on Black Friday was being spent on gifts to be offered at the feet of Christ, or given to His churches, then you might have a point. But Jesus isn't there condoning conspicuous consumption, only conspicuous devotion. Or am I missing something?


  3. Kent Will

    I knew you were going to say that.And you'd be right, of course. I suppose I was only comparing the general grinch-ness of the two remarks, because you can always use "could have been spent on the poor" as an argument against anybody purchasing anything, so it tends to come across as just another reformist with an axe to grind. šŸ™‚


  4. Brad Littlejohn

    "Grinch-ness"? Ouch.No, certainly, I would want to be very careful about how far I pushed the argument. And indeed, I stopped short of pushing an argument at all–simply drawing attention to facts worth pondering. I do not want to say that no one in America can legitimately shop for anything non-essential, and enjoy doing so, until they have first given away sufficient money to meet all essential needs that they can possibly meet. Although it is easy to construct a syllogism that seems to yield that result, I think that for a number of reasons that cannot be the right answer, and have to be able to make more nuanced statements of our ethical obligations in this area. (Indeed, this is an ongoing interest of mine, and I can't say I have come to a fully satisfying statement of the problem yet.)But, given that people often act like problems of world poverty are simply too huge for us to make a serious dent in them, it's worth reflecting on statistics like the above to put things into perspective. How much of our Black Friday spending could we readily do without? How far could that go in helping address some really basic needs?(and note, of course, that the amount I gave for giving everyone access to clean drinking water I simply got from multiplying the amount it takes to help one person–$20–by the total number of people in need–around 900 million. Perhaps implementing such a comprehensive solution would cost somewhat more than that, and would be extraordinarily complicated.)


  5. Kent Will

    The grinch comment was a bit strong: I assumed you weren't making that syllogism the basis for your dialectics on poverty. It's really only your rhetoric I question, and that mostly because it tends to lump you with the real grinches out there–the sort of liberals who congregate in Friendship Square in Moscow to protest and guilt-trip the public.Perhaps it shows a (dare I say?) Puritan streak somewhere in your ethics. They wanted to rein in the conspicuous consumption of apple brandy during Christmas; you want to rein in conspicuous consumption of the Apple brand. Both are worthy goals, but given the baggage that accompanies this sort of frowning, wouldn't you want to make your careful distinctions up front?


  6. Brad Littlejohn

    Whether or not protesters in Friendship Square are grinches (I thought they were anti-war protesters, not anti-Christmas-spending protesters–have they broadened their agenda?), I couldn't say. Of course, I would ask quite what relevance the word "grinch" has to this discussion at all, given that the Grinch's problem was that he just didn't like people enjoying themselves period, not that he opposed some people enjoying themselves too much while ignoring others in need.Likewise, I'm not sure that the Puritan comparison applies. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Puritans were hostile primarily to what they saw as the deleterious spiritual effects to the individual of too much material enjoyment, which is a rather different concern from the one that condemns heedless material enjoyment in the face of widespread material need. Of course, I think there may be, at least in our day, an important role for both concerns. The second concern alone is too utilitarian, the former alone too, well, Puritanical. In any case, as far as making careful distinctions up front, well I suppose it depends on the arena. Given just how heedless our culture has become about the depth of its bondage to consumerism, I think the most important thing is to get people's attention, and then once you've got it, you can make careful explanations and distinctions. "Making careful distinctions up front" is hardly going make anyone perk up and listen. But, yes, I could have, should have, and generally would try to say a bit more than I said in this exceptionally brief post, which was the result of a certain amount of laziness.


  7. That would seem to be a proper way to extend the piety of Thanksgiving: after thanking the Lord for his abundance of gifts, rush out to appropriate more in token of our appreciation. Seriously, though, your suggestion seems pretty good. Isnā€™t thanksgiving properly completed, after all, in charity to our neighbour? It would be an edifying tradition to append to the American feast, and it aligns well with Stir-up Sunday.


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