Monthly Archives: November 2014

Black Friday Eve – I mean, Thanksgiving

The hallmark shopping day that is called Black Friday threatens to subsume the previous day, still known as Thanksgiving. Perhaps Thanksgiving needs to be put on some type of endangered holiday list. The following excerpt from Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good describes the dominant culture in the US since the early 1980s: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. It’s like a religion in the sense that it is of “ultimate importance.” It’s been a good religion providing food, clothing, shelter and employment for many, but when it goes too far (as exemplified below), this religion breaks bad and damages societal common good.

 

Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2011, was the day that a number of big American retailers—Kohl’s, Target, Best Buy, and Walmart—extended the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, with a prelude. Their doors would open at 10 p.m. Thursday night and stay open through Friday.* The big, bloating turkey and trimmings meal that begets tiredness be damned; employees would need to report to work early Thanksgiving evening to prepare for the onslaught of shoppers.

That evening at a Walmart in Los Angeles, a woman doused fellow shoppers with pepper spray in order to get her hands on one of a few discounted Xbox video-game players available. The woman was accused of “competitive shopping,” using the spray to gain preferred access to merchandise in various parts of the store. She left after making her purchases; twenty people were eventually treated for minor injuries from the pepper spray. A Los Angeles police lieutenant described the melee as “customer versus customer shopping rage.” That same evening in six additional states other retailers witnessed similar violence.

Research shows that the same area in the brain is stimulated and rewarded when the following tasks are involved: making money, having sex, getting a good deal, and using cocaine. Dopamine receptors in the primitive brain light up when one “scores”—financially, sexually, or chemically. In one study, laboratory rats, when wired to receive electrical stimuli in the dopamine centers of their brains, opted to continually press a lever facilitating the stimulus—this “hit” eventually became more important than all other activities, including eating and drinking: death by dopamine. We humans are infinitely wiser than rats, but the options that titillate our lizard brain dopamine centers are more expansive as well. Thankfully, Black Friday Eve—rather, Thanksgiving—comes only once a year.

*Malls are following the trend to open their doors on Thanksgiving for shoppers, cooperating with the big retailers to essentially annex the holiday for commercial purposes. Chapter 5 of Just a Little Bit More further explores the role of malls in what I call America’s mythic religion.

 All rights reserved by T. Carlos Anderson and Blue Ocotillo Publishing, 2014.

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website. JaLBM, admittedly, is not as much fun as an Xbox, but the lessons therein might inspire an Xbox-loving reader to consider ventures beyond the world of virtuality.

Click here if you prefer to purchase paperback from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

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Migration Between the Haves and the Have Nots

So . . . now that the 2014 mid-term elections are over, what is to be done about immigration policy in the US?

Branko Milanovich’s treatise on inequality, The Haves and the Have Nots, stands out because of its decidedly non-polemical tone. What a breath of fresh air to read a book that doesn’t have an agenda, other than to inform about its subject – in this case, economic inequality and its social consequences. Robert Reich also writes on the topic of inequality, but from a decidedly left-of-center viewpoint. I appreciate Reich’s work, but he’s mostly “preaching to the choir.” I imagine most folks who don’t agree with his politics ignore his work. Milanovich, on the other hand, shares insights useful for political partisans on either side of the middle divide. Milanovich’s views on immigration are especially clear-sighted and discerning.

Milanovic hails from Serbia; he now lives and works in the US. He’s an economist who has worked for the World Bank; he has taught at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. I appreciate and like his “outsider” viewpoint; he’s lived in different parts of the world and sees a larger picture of it. His World Bank experience (as an economic researcher) impresses the reader without losing the reader in overly complicated arguments or formulas.

Milanovich covers numerous important issues related to inequality: social mobility, globalization, income distribution between countries and world regions. And speaking of the word inequality: as a researcher looking for study funding sources, Milanovich has discovered (pgs. 84-85) that it’s acceptable to research the elimination of poverty, especially when charity is a potential solution; but much less acceptable to research the causes of inequality, because of the implication that the power structures in place (that produce inequalities) need fixing.

As I said, his views on migration are especially enlightening. As we know, globalization makes the world smaller in a number of ways, including the awareness of living conditions across the globe. Migration is stimulated when the materially poor see (mostly via TV) how the materially well-off live. Since the 1980s, median income differences between individuals in the richest and poorest countries has increased; and, as we also know, large-scale migration is not legal or politically acceptable in the richer countries. But, Milanovich cautions, as long as these economic and social differences exist, migration will be a reality. “In the long run the antimigration battle cannot be won – if globalization continues” (p. 163). Political rally cries to “seal the border,” while expedient (for some) to win an election, don’t get at root causes. As an example, migration to the US from Mexico has slowed considerably since the 2007-08 economic swoon. Because of the recession and consequent slow economic recovery, the incentive to migrate has dissipated for many Mexicans. (The migration of Salvadorians, Hondurans, and Guatemalans – many of these children – is an altogether different story and situation.)

Milanovich argues for an approach that is as much against the grain as it is commonsensical: “Either poor people’s incomes have to be raised in the countries where they currently live, or they will come, in ever-greater numbers, to the rich world” (p. 164). We typically don’t think in this direction – we typically think we (or me) first and let others fend for themselves. But as globalization advances, the peoples of the world are more interconnected than ever before. Milanovich says that today the terms local poverty and global inequality are interchangeable. This wasn’t the case fifty or sixty years ago, before the current era of excess (beginning in 1980) became entrenched. Milanovich further cautions: “High levels of inequality make global chaos more likely” (p. 162).

So, will we have new legislation concerning immigration policy in the US? We’ll probably have to wait for awhile . . . in the meantime I recommend reading Milanovich’s book and considering some statistics, arguments, and insights that you won’t find in many other places. The cause for better immigration policy, among other things, will be lifted up.

 

These thoughts can be read in greater detail and development in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available on Amazon and at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Branko Milanovich, The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality, Basic Books (2011).

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