The Dark Side of Black Friday

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Benjamin Barber, distinguished senior fellow at the New York think tank Demos and author of Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (Norton, 2007) discusses hyper-consumerism and the need to return to basic civic values.


Benjamin Barber

Comments [34]

Mumia Wotse from New York

What actions are we supposed to take to tame capitalism and restore democracy? What is the future of capitalism when the fossil fuels run out? Is there a relationship between the speed at which we use fossil fuels and capitalism? Is there a relationship between environmental damage and capitalism?

Mr. Barber, I am very appreciative that you recognize that the way out of our current economic mess is through increased savings and greatly increased production. It should be obvious that the only way to increased long-term wealth is through production of high-value goods.

The fact that our government attempts to fix the economic crisis by placing itself into debt for the purpose of perpetuating ever-increasing amounts of corporate and personal debt portends the demise of our government.

Dec. 03 2008 03:05 PM
LVK from

The trampling is a product of Capitalism? What a patently myopic and moronic statement showing little intellectual integrity! Have you ever heard of the Soviet bread or shoe lines? Standing for hours waiting for the chance to get a loaf of bread? This situation is certainly more akin to the former, in that you could buy a loaf of bread for a government mandated below market value price if they had any when you finally got to the counter! The Wal-Mart tragedy is more a product of the fear of loss that people can have when market forces are not appropriately adhered to or intentionally disregarded. Run on "entertainment" products is not a problem of capitalism, it is a problem of the ever disintegrating social values evolving from the dedication to secular "values"!

Dec. 03 2008 10:03 AM
hjs from 11211

joe, this nation is insane. one day u people will believe me. MARK MY WORDS!

Dec. 02 2008 03:26 PM
Joe from New Haven

Were Walmart's Black Friday sale offerings a form of yelling "FIRE!!!" in a movie theatre? I've heard anecdotes from work colleagues who joined the pre-dawn crowds at Walmart that indicate that there were near riots at many stores and police ha to be brought in. I guess we Americans have finally invented an event to equal European soccer matches in crowd mayhem.

Dec. 02 2008 03:04 PM
hjs from 11211

so if it's "OFFICIAL" a year after it started maybe a year from now we'll find out it ended a year ago

Dec. 02 2008 01:35 PM

Are we supposed to be skeptical about your purported last name?
Giuseppe and Paleo- and -logo?
In other words, Joe Primitive-Thinker?
What are you trying to pull here?

Dec. 02 2008 12:43 PM
Giuseppe Paleologo from NYC

According to Barber we consume too much. We spend too much. We save too little. Just look at Germany, where they consume less and yet they are happier.

I will play the contrarian here. First of all, how does Barber know what is the optimal savings and consumption rate? How does he know that our savings rate is too low? I suspect that his automated reasoning is that we would always consume and pollute too much. Perhaps my consumption is justified because it makes me happier. Maybe, just maybe, Americans' average net worth has increased over the years, in line with the average debt level. The fact that Barber does take into account personal and collective trade-off is suspect. I believe that, if he mentioned them, he would not know how to estimate them and to justify his statements. I am dismayed that such a shallow commentator is given so much time on the air, without even an hint of skepticism from Brian.

Dec. 02 2008 12:26 PM
Leon Freilich from Park Slope


It took exactly one year but now it's official,

The economy's smashed like a shot-down missile.

Recession and Alzheimer's are the same in one way,

Each takes plenty of time for a definitive say.

Yet if given a choice, it's Alzheimer's for me.

As the bad news won't stick in my memory.

Dec. 02 2008 11:59 AM
seth from Long Island

#25 hjs,

I missed it. I'll have to go back and check it out. Glad to hear she's still checking in.

Dec. 02 2008 11:44 AM
hjs from 11211

did u see eva's post yesterday
she's watching!

Dec. 02 2008 11:02 AM
seth from Long Island

The shoppers who trampled a Wal-Mart employee to death were like drug addicts who needed a fix. Hopefully, some of them can be identified and prosecuted.

Dec. 02 2008 10:51 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Greed can have deadly consequences. Can't get somethin' for (nearly) nothin'.

Dec. 02 2008 10:45 AM
Linda from Upper West Side

More Benjamin Barber! Please get him on again soon and keep him on longer. I nearly wept when we left him to talk about luxury suites at Yankee games -- not that I don't want to hear about that, as well, but Benjamin Barber needs at least an hour.

Dec. 02 2008 10:44 AM
hjs from 11211

our god is the dollar

Dec. 02 2008 10:35 AM
Barbar chinese food

Dec. 02 2008 10:35 AM

Very enlightening to hear such a refreshing alternative view on consumerist capitalism

Dec. 02 2008 10:32 AM
Paulson from Wall Street

The best way to build our economy is with free market capitalism and lower taxes. Regulations distort the market and create inefficiencies, which hurt us all.

Dec. 02 2008 10:32 AM
Sascha from Hell's Kitchen

These are the kind of voices we need to hear much much more often. Phantastic guest Brian!!!

Dec. 02 2008 10:28 AM
Nancy Breslow from Manhattan

I'm thrilled you're addressing the issue of the percentage of our economy that's based on consumer spending -- as someone who is not an economist, I've never understood how consumer spending is supposed to keep increasing.

Similarly, I don't understand how production is supposed to keep increasing. I see corporate heads constantly seeking increased production to pacify their shareholders, but everyone I know (who has a job) is doing much more work for the same pay, and working at a brutal pace.

Dec. 02 2008 10:27 AM
snoop from Brooklyn

Thank you! We don't need to consume more. We need to invest more. Why isn't investing, in roads, schools, and other physical and intellectual infrastructure, considered a worthy goal, rather than the sugar high, candy bar stimulus packages that seem to be on the table???

Dec. 02 2008 10:26 AM

So Carlos, we have an equivalency of malevolent non-governmental organizations:

tongs/gangs; terrorist organizations; corporations?

Dec. 02 2008 10:26 AM

Working an extra day a week? I'd have to have eight days each week for that.

Dec. 02 2008 10:26 AM
jonathan sanders from east 72nd st

Jeff Sacks? Morally bankrupt. Gave stamp of approval Russians to rob Babushki of their life savings. Escaped from scandal at Harvard HIID, whitewashed by Columbia...all the good work in mosquito nets in Africa don't repair corrupt damage he did in Russia. His protege, A. Schlieffer is a convicted Federal criminal (civil court) for corruption, so too his wife, yet he is protected by Larry Summers at Harvard.
Should people with such questionable morals work at saving our economy. Leave hims at the ineffective UN and Columbia, about to gobble up Harlem.

Dec. 02 2008 10:24 AM
Alvin from Manhattan

"Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;" so said Wordsworth in 1806. Anti-consumerism has a long history. In the U.S., it can be traced back to Protestant streams that pre-date the Republic. Is Mr. Barber re-hashing some of the seven deadly sins, minus the religion? Did he consider putting a Hieronymous Bosch painting on the cover of his book?

Dec. 02 2008 10:23 AM

good question, Hugh

I'm impressed by Obama's choices and approach, but we'd be foolish not to consider your points - they're entirely valid.

Barber's discussion of these malevolent non-governmental forces and the difficulty of reckoning with them reminds me of pre-war Shanghai. Mao and Chiang Kai-shek were both heavily dependent on the gang (tong) leaders. They were their own terrorist/banking organizations, and every politician was indebted to them.

Will we have to curtsey to Al Quaeda, the non-state actor, as Chinese politicians once had to bow to the tongs?

Dec. 02 2008 10:21 AM
Robert from NYC


Dec. 02 2008 10:21 AM
Carlo Altomare from Manhattan

What he's saying about Al Quaeda is also true of large corporations. They are floating entities that are not bound to one state or another.

Dec. 02 2008 10:19 AM
Jeanna from upper Manhattan

Ben Barber is right on it ....

Dec. 02 2008 10:18 AM
Norman from NYC

OK, some of us were worried that Brian was leaning too far to the right (or "center").

Benjamin Barber is a bit more on the progressive side. Agree?

I still think that the Brian Lehrer Show keeps you well-informed only if you also listen to to get what Brian doesn't have enough time for.

Dec. 02 2008 10:18 AM
Hugh from Crown Heights

"Brilliance" -- the adjective to watch out for. Henry Kissinger is the archetypal "brilliant" statesman; that is, a war criminal who happens to be reasonably smart (but not so smart he could either recognize or admit his mistakes).

I'm still trying to figure out what is so wonderful -- or "competent" about this cabinet. They have all struck out again and again. Clinton on Iraq and the Middle East. Lawrence Summers -- a perfect 000 batting average on deregulation. Timothy Geithner, number three in the trio of incompetence with Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson. And Eric Holder, strike out on Eric Holder and the Patriot Act.

So what qualifications do these people have _except_ that they are affiliated with the universities which served as the seats for the "thinking" behind the current foreign policy and economic catastrophes?

Dec. 02 2008 10:12 AM
Samuel from NYC

Is there anyway our culture can change back into a production society?
I read Mr. Barber's book, and enjoyed it. I am 28 years old and see everything he speaks about in my father. Consumed, infantile behavior. Im getting him this book for Christmas!

Dec. 02 2008 09:44 AM

does no-growth work? how?

I remember in 02 bush encouraged dividends over stock rises as a strategy (via tax changes), sensible.

Dec. 02 2008 08:35 AM
J from New York City

The Black Friday sales were not that great this year. Why go through the effort for medicore discount?

Dec. 02 2008 08:09 AM
George from Bay Ridge

Will you mention the Wal-Mart trampling?

Dec. 02 2008 07:20 AM

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