It's "Buy Nothing Day" in North Korea Every Day of the Year...

The weak logic of a popular anti-consumerist protest.

The following commentary orginally on Friday, November 24, 2006 on Marketplace, which is broadcast on over 300 NPR stations around the country.

For audio of the commentary, go here.

For an ongoing HIt & Run discussion of Buy Nothing Day, go here.

BOB MOON: So how did you handle the big sales today? Did you sleep in this morning? Resist all enticements to hit the mall at dawn? If so you cheered up the backers of "Buy Nothing Day." It's a protest against the post-Thanksgiving shop-a-thon. But according to commentator Nick Gillespie, "Buy Nothing Day" is a very bad deal.

NICK GILLESPIE: Buy Nothing Day originated in Vancouver in the early '90s and since then the trendy, anticapitalist magazine Adbusters has spread it far and wide.

Protestors have staged some fun stunts to raise awareness about our supposedly frantic consumer binging. They've organized zombie marches through malls — get it? Publicly chopped up credit cards, and organized clinics for shopaholics.

This year, protesters are highlighting global warming and the predicted depletion of the planet's open-ocean fisheries as the inevitable consequence of our urge to splurge. But I'm not buying it.

Fisheries aren't being depleted because we eat too many fish. It's because, unlike cattle ranches or chicken farms, no one owns those fisheries. So, fishermen have no incentive to manage, much less increase, their stock. Think about it: When was the last time you heard of a chicken farm — or for that matter, a fish farm — running out of meat?

When it comes to global warming, whether we try to stop it or learn to live with it, buying nothing isn't really an option, especially when it comes to protection from nature's fury.

The weather in South Florida and Bangladesh isn't that different. Each region gets rocked by storms every year. The difference is that Sunshine Staters have better-built, more expensive homes that let them withstand the fierce weather more easily.

Buy Nothing Day's core message, "We have to consume less," especially those of us who are relatively wealthy, has got it all wrong.

Instead, we should be breaking down trade barriers and subsidies to help the world's poor consume more of everything: from food, to education, to healthcare, to technology.

There's nothing wrong with trading. It's a basic impulse observed in all human societies. Of course, there are unfortunate exceptions. It's Buy Nothing Day in North Korea every day of the year and look where it's gotten them.

BOB MOON: Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine. He comes to us courtesy of WMUB in Oxford, Ohio.


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