It’s a Commercial Life

by | Dec 25, 2003

If the products and effects of commercialism suddenly vanished, people would find themselves sitting on the cold ground naked, wondering where everything went.

Whenever I hear that familiar Yuletide condemnation “Christmas is too commercial,” I recall George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” wishing he’d never been born. For just as he didn’t realize the positive impact he’d had on others, the anti-commercial brigade doesn’t realize the positive impact commerce has on Christmas.

In the movie classic, an angel shows Bailey how badly the people and places he loves would’ve fared without him. If we could similarly grant the commercialism-bashers their wish– that is, if we show them a world “free” of commercial endeavors, they’d instantly repent and start topping Christmas trees with dollar signs.

Why? Because they’d see that almost everything good, including our ability to care for our loved-ones, results from the freedom to commerce. Indeed, if the products and effects of commercialism suddenly vanished, people would find themselves sitting on the cold ground naked, wondering where everything went. I doubt that’d make for a very merry Christmas, though it would certainly add new meaning to “dashing through the snow.”

Of course, some will retort that they aren’t against commerce per se, they’d just prefer if Christmas were less about material things and more about helping others. Again, we must be careful what we wish for.

Just imagine if businesspeople started taking the “reason for the season” stuff seriously. Imagine going to work and hearing your boss announce, “Folks, management now concurs with the widely held notion that Christmas is too commercial, so there’ll be no special advertising, extended shopping hours, or other such attempts to profit. Why detract from the true ‘reason for the season,’ right? In fact, we’re sending everyone home for two weeks without pay and donating that money to charity. After all, Christmas should be about giving, not personal gain, right?”

Or imagine needing to fill your tank or stomach while traveling on vacation, but every gas station and restaurant you come to is closed, with a sign reading: “Happy non-commercial Holidays!”

If that happened, the same ones now griping that Christmas is too commercial would be squealing to high heaven that stores weren’t open.

To condemn commercialism is to spit in one’s own face. Commerce provides us jobs, goods, services and an industrial society so prosperous that even the average poor person has a living standard that would make a Caesar gasp. Running water, electricity, central heat and air, rapid transportation, scientific medicine, and instantaneous worldwide communication– marvels that the richest kings of yesteryear couldn’t dream of– are just par for the course for us.

Yet despite living amid these wonders of reason and science, the anti-commercial crowd wants us to spend Christmas paying homage to faith and otherworldliness. But faith and otherworldliness are precisely what kept man in the state of abject poverty and misery that characterized pre-industrial times. Prosperity requires the creation and proliferation of material values; and that requires people focusing their reasoning minds on this world profitably. That’s what keeps us alive.

Even a “spiritual” person’s means of feeding the hungry stems ultimately from profit-seeking entrepreneurs building and operating such “material” things as canneries, food processing plants, trucking companies, and supermarkets.

Of course, many may disagree with this article and fire off angry letters to the editor. But even they help make my case. For one’s letter will either go via email, made possible by capitalists’ marketing of computers, software and internet connections, or it will be written with commercially-produced pen and paper and delivered via motorized vehicle. One can’t even denounce commercialism without relying on it!

So this Christmas, let’s raise a toast to the real reason behind our wonderful lives.

Wayne Dunn writes about political and cultural events from an Objectivist perspective.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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