A few days ago, a friend of mine joined the Facebook group “Buy Nothing Day. November 25.” It sounded suspiciously armchair activismish. Wikipedia says that:
[b]uy Nothing Day is an international day of protest against consumerism observed by social activists... It was founded by Vancouver artist Ted Dave and subsequently promoted by Adbusters magazine, based in Canada.
The people behind Buy Nothing Day clearly mean well. But they are confusing consumerism with materialism. So they conflate all buying with vanity and status purchases.
This kind of activism can only arise in industrialized nations. Any person that has had to endure the kind of financial hardship you see in some African nations, appreciates the value of trade.
Every so often I see calls for Europe and the US to scrap their farming subsidies so that African farmers will be able to compete with their industrialized counterparts.
What else are these farmers doing, but to try to gain access to industrialized markets? They want you to buy, and by not buying their produce, you’re making life more difficult for them.
I agree with the Buy Nothing Day folks on the matter of materialism. We (and I include myself as a middle class South African) certainly buy a lot of things that don’t really improve our lives that much.
But if we are to engage in social activism, good intentions alone won’t cut it if we block the only avenue that poor people have to improve their lives – love and ancient cultures are great, but won’t help the developing world get out of poverty.
Instead of buying nothing, insist on buying produce from developing nations. If you are generous, pay for the tuition of a child in a developing nation. Heck, why not start at home and pay for the tuition of a poor child in your own country?
If you really want to help transfer wealth and improve lives, start a company. Even the most prosperous of countries have unemployed people. And where you can’t find local talent, you will surely attract foreign talent. By starting a company, you’ll increase the amount of trade in the world and therefore you’ll help budge the world another inch away from poverty.
Long live the trade.