Why Black Friday is My Favorite Holiday

With Thanksgiving less than a day away, and the long weekend to follow, I thought I’d offer a brief appreciation of my favorite American holiday. No, not Thanksgiving, which is perfectly enjoyable but merely serves as a calorie-packing warm-up for the main event: Black Friday.

Sure, it’s not officially a holiday, like Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it might as well be. In many ways, we already treat it like one. Schools and the federal government are closed. Tens of millions of Americans have the day off. And millions of those Americans participate in an exuberant, ritualized annual event: a multiday holiday shopping marathon marked by some of the year’s most aggressive retail sales.

The reason I love Black Friday so much is that it’s an unapologetic celebration of capitalism and commerce — not as sideshow, but for its own sake. There's something wonderful about the outburst of trade, and the enthusiasm to which both retailers and purchasers bring to the event. It’s a day to spend buying and selling, picking and choosing, finding out what you want and trading to acquire it, figuring out what others want and how to sell it to them. It’s a day that highlights the energetic joys of the mass marketplace, and reminds us of both its thrills and virtues. It invites everyone who's interested to experience the vast universe of amusing, interesting, and even life-improving goods and products available for purchase, and to participate in the complex web of barter, decision, sale, and production that is the market economy.

Part of what's great about Black Friday is that everyone enjoys it in their own way: Some arrive early to grab a deal they know they want. Others sleep in late and then window-shop for what looks interesting. Some people power through the entire weekend like its an athletic event. Others are drive-by deal-finders, arriving to pick a single item off the shelf. There are casual shoppers and hardcore retail warriors. Everyone customizes their own experience, and their own level of participation. 

A critic might argue that unlike other holidays, Black Friday is essentially selfish, about acquisition and objects rather than people and relationships. But that misses the point. Sure, there are plenty of personal purchases on Black Friday. But with Christmas around the corner, it’s also true that many of the purchases are intended as gifts. Which just serves as a reminder of the way that markets help us show our fondness for others — and hopefully make their lives better in the process. Want to show your love for someone else? Markets can help you do that.

And even purchases made purely for personal enjoyment contribute to the lives of others. Black Friday got its name because the sales volume that many retailers finally went “into the black” for the year — making a profit that allowed them to keep operating, to stay open to sell again and to pay the salaries of their employees, the invoices of their business partners. Even the most selfish buyer does not make his purchase in a vacuum: There’s always a seller who benefits, as well as a network of producers who benefit whenever the seller does. Your purchase benefits you, yes, but it also benefits others; it's a way of negotiating what you want and what they want that can allow everyone to end up better off. Black Friday is a day-long public celebration of free exchange and gains from trade. 

Mass participation and anticipation only serve to amplify Black Friday’s raucous festival spirit. In a way it resembles a major sporting event, with masses gathered around the country to individually partake in a group experience. Except on Black Friday, the masses aren’t just watching. They’re participating.

These days, those who don’t always love the crowds can join in the fun too: Online shopping, complete with blowout sales, makes it possible to participate from home. That’s the thing about free and functioning markets. They do their meet you where you are, to give you what you want, in the way that you want it. Black Friday is a celebration of much of what makes markets great — and spirited annual reminder of how much better we all are because of them.

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  • $park¥||

    You left out an important part of Black Friday: the carnage and mayhem that gets left in the wake of the opening stampede. For some of us spectators, that is the best part.

  • Tim||

    The stampedes are great, sure, but what fun would the shopping season's biggest day be without the stabbings and shootings?

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    We should rename it Detroit Day

  • Almanian.||

    We'll allow it if you promise to overturn and burn cars.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Promise? I guarantee or your money back.

  • Almanian.||

    I'll buy THAT for a dollar!

  • $park¥||

    Has any store found a dead body stuffed under a clothes rack several days after Black Friday yet?

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    Speaking of dead bodies, or close to it at least:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new.....ds-newsxml

  • $park¥||

    She was just looking to get boned obviously. Kim Kardashian approves.

  • Certified Public Asskicker||

    That was humerus.

  • $park¥||

    I just lump it all together into the more general carnage and mayhem.

  • Tman||

    Man do I love seeing the inevitable stampede news stories about people who got injured stepping over their fellow man to get a laptop that will cost less than half what they paid in six months.

    I'm with the Sudesman when it comes to celebrating the sheer force of consumerism and free markets in all their glory, but it is also a time to laugh at the utter inhumanity that people will suffer through to get a cheap DVD player.

  • ||

    If people are still buying DVD players, they deserve the pain.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Competitive shopping...it's still rediculous.

  • Sevo||

    Sore loser...

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    With a size 6 woman's stiletto imprinted in my back

  • Almanian.||

    Do go on...

  • Michael S||

    My household will be celebrating Buy Nothing Day.

    “Go cold turkey from consumer culture completely! Like those who have accepted this magical invitation before you, you may be rewarded with a life-changing shift of perspective – a glimpse into how to consume less and live more on this precarious Planet of ours … And then take the next step, stretch out the joy of Buy Nothing Day by getting your family together and deciding to celebrate Xmas differently this year.”

  • Sevo||

    "a glimpse into how to consume less and live more on this precarious Planet of ours"

    A glimpse into a ridiculous cult.

  • Almanian.||

    Yeah, but Michael's supporting the effort with his Captain Planet lunchbox and underwear.

    Yay, Michael!!

  • Michael S||

    20% of the world population are consuming over 80% of the earth's natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth.
    Until we challenge the entrenched values of capitalism – that the economy must always keep growing, that consumer wants must always be satisfied, that immediate gratification is imperative – we’re not going able to fix the gigantic psycho-financial-eco crisis of our times.

  • $park¥||

    WE'RE ALL GONNA DIEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

  • Sevo||

    Michael S| 11.21.12 @ 3:49PM |#
    "20% of the world population are consuming over 80% of the earth's natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth."

    Whiny ignoramuses posting numbers and assuming all will agree with the subtext.

  • B.P.||

    1912 commie: Capitalism leads to human misery and doesn't meet the barest needs of the people. Trust us, we're scientists.

    2012 commie: Capitalism gives the idiot consumer children everything they want and more at cheap prices, thus ruining the earth.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    20% of the world population are consuming over 80% of the earth's natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth.

    This guy's never heard of the pareto principle.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Well, I have been looking for a holiday where I can be miserable, but could you make it so that I can also be smug and morally superior while I'm miserable? Oh, you can?

    Where do I sign?!

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Well I'm not going to go shopping on Black Friday. But I agree with Suderman, and enjoy the beauty of free exchange.

    Instead, we'll head down to San Diego to hang out with some old, dear friends for the weekend. There will be bourbon drinking, football watching (Go Buckeyes! Fuck Michigan!) and guitar playing. I don't want to brag, but just recently my guitar skills have really progressed, and I can now sort of shred.

    Happy Thanksgiving Reasonoids. And a merry Black Friday!

  • C. Anacreon||

    “Go cold turkey from consumer culture completely!"

    You are right, the day after Thanksgiving is a great day for cold turkey.

  • Lord Humungus||

    This long weekend, I'll be up at the northern compound. There I will be free from rubbing shoulders with the rabble. But I would like to thank the shoppers for providing the money that - through the evil corporation - paid for the land and house.

  • Almanian.||

    You in Yooperland or the Mitten? We used to have a hunting cabin in Acme (next to Traverse City) when I was growing up. Guaranteed whitetail every year till my dad died. Where I learned to hunt - good times!

  • Lord Humungus||

    still in the mitten. Just northern mitten.

  • Almanian.||

    Yeah - even as a certified Capitalist Pig™, I truly hate this stupid, juvenile exhibition. I find it repulsive and forced.

    Free country (kind of) and all that - enjoy it if you can. I'll be as far away as possible.

    Plus my shopping was done looooong ago :)

  • 0x90||

    Christmas shopping? Pfft. I had mine done over a year ago.

  • Brett L||

    My family made it easy on each other. We have all the shit we need (and no kids) so just give any amount to any cause and call it a day.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    From what I can remember from my childhood, Black Fridays are only fun when you're trying to get the latest gaming system. I know someone who caught the flu while shopping for a Playstation 3.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    By the way, shouldn't we be getting some holiday plugs for The Declaration of Independents or Ron Paul's Revolution?

  • Almanian.||

    Are those games? I'm not familiar with them...

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Ron Paul's Revolution, especially, would be an interesting game.

  • C. Anacreon||

    sort of a libertarians vs zombies, I'd think

  • Caleb Turberville||

    What's the cheat code for making everybody forget about your racist newsletters?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Grand Theft Auto: Somalia

  • $park¥||

    As long as you don't chose the black pieces, amirite?

  • KPres||

    "The reason I love Black Friday so much is that it’s an unapologetic celebration of capitalism and commerce"

    No it isn't. Black Friday is collectivist bullshit. The reason why it happens is because of stupid collectivist social norms surrounding Christmas, aka, a day where you're socially obligated to symbolically express another person's value to you for no apparent reason and with no increase in mutual utility, rather than just using the price mechanism (inow, exchanging your money for their services). Black Friday is anti-capitalist, and it exhibits all the characteristics of anti-capitalist social organization (aka, chaos, conflict, etc).

  • $park¥||

    Looks like someone didn't get what they wanted for Christmas last year.

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, and he left out "Bah, Humbug!"

  • KPres||

    Look, I only bring this up because there's nothing the socialists would love better than to pin Black Friday, and all the chaos and infantile behavior that surrounds it, on capitalism. Not only is that wrong, it's terrible strategy to play into that narrative.

  • $park¥||

    socialists would love better than to pin Black Friday, and all the chaos and infantile behavior that surrounds it, on capitalism

    Then it's the job of capitalists to show why the socialists are wrong. Kinda like what Suderman is trying to do here.

  • KPres||

    Sadly, I know these people all too well...

    http://reason.com/blog/2012/11.....nt_3394333

  • Tman||

    The reason why it happens is because of stupid collectivist social norms surrounding Christmas

    Oh. I thought people just wanted cheap stuff to buy, I had no idea it fit in to intrinsically paternalistic stereotypes that conform to the collectivist agenda.

    On second thought, nah, that's ridiculous. It's a day where people buy cheap stuff in droves.

  • KPres||

    So why do stores sell things at below market-clearing prices, and why do they do that on exactly the day after the last holiday before XMas? Just random?

  • Tman||

    No, it's not just random. Yes, it is related to the Xmas season. But just because you have a boner against Xmas doesn't mean that Black Friday is only because "you're socially obligated to symbolically express another person's value to you for no apparent reason and with no increase in mutual utility".

    Just read that to yourself again and think about how fucking stupid it sounds. You sound like the person at work who bitches about Xmas in September.

  • KPres||

    Just read that to yourself again and think about how fucking stupid it sounds. You sound like the person at work who bitches about Xmas in September.

    It's called hyperbole, dingleberry, and I employed it make a point that's generally counterintuitive. It's supposed to be so stupid, that way people don't take it at face value...like you did.

  • Tman||

    So.......you're being sarcastic? I don't get it.

    I kind of sort of somewhat see your point above about how socialists try to pin Black Friday on capitalism as some sort of badge of shame, but you might want to be a bit more clear about your intentions.

  • Skid Marx||

    "So why do stores sell things at below market-clearing prices"

    Loss leaders. Study business some.

    "why do they do that on exactly the day after the last holiday before XMas? Just random?"

    It started because most people have that day off and many many years ago the womyns said, "We've got nothing to do today. Hey! let's go shopping!!!"

  • KPres||

    "Loss leaders. Study business some."

    I will, as soon as you figure out what a rhetorical question is.

  • ||

    It's fun how libertarians can sometimes talk in the same kind of academic jargon that progressives do, only the libertarian jargon is all about economics and marginal utility instead of gender norms and social stereotyping.

  • $park¥||

    Everybody wants to be the smart kid.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Not Marco Rubio.

  • KPres||

    "A critic might argue that unlike other holidays, Black Friday is essentially selfish, about acquisition and objects rather than people and relationships."

    Nope, wrong again. Black Friday is only selfish in the sense that everything is ultimately selfish (we have relationships with others because it's beneficial to us to do so). According to the more common definition of the term, Black Friday is about unselfishness. People aren't out shopping for themselves, they're out shopping for XMas presents for other people.

  • $park¥||

    Nope, wrong again. People are out shopping on Black Friday so they can selfishly spend as little money as possible on gifts for others.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    So, shopping for bargains is "selfish"? Isn't this the same bull anti-Wal-Mart crusaders like to say about the low-income people who shop at big box stores?

  • Caleb Turberville||

    OT: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXmPqva7Aoc

    Case in point, Ebert and Roeper smugly patting themselves on the back for not shopping at Wal-Mart.

  • $park¥||

    In a sense I would say yes. It's all well and good to give gifts to others, that is fairly unselfish. Wanting to pay as little as possible for those gifts is selfish. Selfish is not a bad thing here, it shows you're just as concerned for your own well-being.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Or they are spending the same amount of money and using the black friday discounts in order to give a bigger gift. And doing so at the cost of their own leisure time and sanity.

    IOW participating in black friday is altruistic.

  • KPres||

    I don't disagree, in fact, in my first sentence I said Black Friday was selfish. Everything is selfish at it's root, which is why you'll always find selfishness when you dig into the behavior. But the reason the event happens is because of the supposed obligation to be unselfish (as if that were possible) in exchanging gifts at XMas.

  • $park¥||

    Here is Suderman's point:

    Sure, there are plenty of personal purchases on Black Friday. But with Christmas around the corner, it’s also true that many of the purchases are intended as gifts. Which just serves as a reminder of the way that markets help us show our fondness for others — and hopefully make their lives better in the process. Want to show your love for someone else? Markets can help you do that.

    It appears you actually agree with him.

  • KPres||

    I think we're looking at it from two different angles. I'm saying that collectivist norms give rise to this irrational event, while Suderman is taking the event for granted, and showing how markets bring order to the chaos.

    :)

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    In Who-ville they say, that KPres' small heart grew three sizes that day! And then the true meaning of Christmas came through, and KPres found the strength of ten KPreses… plus two.

  • $park¥||

    Well since religions are collectivist, what would you expect? It's a collectivist cult spawning a collectivist event in that case.

    What about Jews, Muslims, or atheists who shop on Black Friday? Maybe they just want a good deal on something and are willing to risk life and limb to get it.

  • ||

    I refuse to participate in either Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day.

    With a high probability, nothing I do on Friday will be in any way influenced by either of these events. Except I will be avoiding driving near, or entering, a mall or other large shopping area.

    There's a good chance I'll be going to the grocery store or eating dinner out, so I can't say I won't be buying anything either though. I might also buy gas.

    There just isn't anything I need bad enough and which I can't find a decent deal on online to bother braving the crowds. And there are so many more worthwhile activities I could be doing.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Like libertarians on Election Day, I refuse to participate.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    A cost/benefit analysis finds Black Friday to be far more likely to payoff for participants than Election Day.

  • ||

    My wife and I already bought a black friday deal tv on amazon. Free delivery. Why would anyone bother going in to a store?

  • $park¥||

    This is what I'd like to know. The best part about shopping online is you don't have to figure out how to jam a giant box in your car.

  • ||

    Ahh yes. I remember the entertainment value of buying a console tv and a home theater system at a time when my vehicle was a Beetle.

  • Knarf Black||

    It's a lot easier to enjoy now that smaller retailers are getting in on the action. I'll be hitting up my local "mom & pop" game store for 20% off all NES cartridges.

    Also, I'm fairly certain that the holiday's many origin stories are all apocryphal.

  • dantheserene||

    Actually, the day after thanksgiving isn't a federal holiday. They get Veteran's Day instead.

  • hassan_isabad_subar||

    I'm currently sitting outside a best-buy jacking interwebs from a local bank. I can't wait for the doors to open so I can yell "JESUS" right before I tackle a store display filled with USB flash-drives made to look like neon kittens.

  • Skyhawk||

    Please stop using the term 'Black Friday', it's racist. Use 'African-American Friday'.

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