The Christmas Season is almost upon us (9 days away as I write this). Giving gifts to family and friends during the Christmas Season is a wonderful tradition that the three wise men initiated over two millennia ago. Sadly, we all recognize that most of our society has allowed the gift-giving to become central to this time of year and the birth of our savior might be a secondary thought for many. We all do our best to maintain proper perspective within our own families and community during this season and hopefully our rejoicing over Jesus’ birth, rather than the gifts and parties, will become infectious and spread to others who may not yet appreciate the beauty and wonder of our Lord’s birth.
However, as we appropriately share our love and friendship through gift-giving during Christmas (and really our shopping throughout the year), could we be inadvertently working against our own values? Do we really stop to think about and care where our money goes and what it is supporting once it leaves our hands? Do alternatives exist for where we could acquire some or many of our needs and wants? Do we simply gravitate to what is easiest and cheapest because we can get it faster and more of it? Do we help enable a particular retailer or couple retailers to control the mass market in which we all operate? Are we willing to take more control of the influence that our money wields?
We have the power to influence the marketplace and our culture with every purchase. Yes, any one of our purchases may be no more influential than a single grain of sand in the dessert, but the totality of our purchases and those of like-minded people is massive. It would take a lengthy post or discussion to lay out a detailed case for why we should be wary of giving too much business to Amazon and other large retailers, but the power and influence that these behemoths wield over our culture, the market, and individual customers and producers is undeniable. Their business practices are frequently questionable and the causes they champion are often completely askew from our values and morals. And maybe most egregious is that customers are sucked into using some companies by programs that direct them to believe that they are doing good when they make purchases with that retailer, which is farcical and often completely contrary when you truly consider the details and results of such programs.
The conveniences of our modern world are not always a bad thing, but handing over undue influence to others in the name of convenience may be. We have so many options with how to use our money and all of the bounty that we are blessed to have, and I believe that we have a great responsibility to use our wealth to further, not hinder, the direction we believe the world should go. Every purchase we make is more than us trading our earnings for a good we need or desire. That money doesn’t dissipate after the transaction, it is then used for other purposes, thus we have some control over how that money will next be used. If we believe that it would be immoral to refurbish an abortionist’s waiting room or help a company to hide safety defects in its product, is it a stretch at all to believe that we also own some responsibility to try to ensure that our money isn’t next used to fund immoral or unethical pursuits?
Additionally, when too many of us send the bulk of our business in only one or two directions, we are concentrating power and influence within a very limited segment of the market. Every sale gives any business a little bit more power, thus if one business is able to pull in a disproportionate share of the market, of which we are all members, then its influence grows significantly across the market, politics, and human lives in general. The more power that is ceded, the more difficult it becomes for competition to balance it out.
Online shopping can be a real benefit for families because it may allow for less time driving around and more time with spouses and children. But maybe it tends towards some ill when we simply hand over all of our buying to a single retailer or begin buying more because it is so easy. There are countless online retailers who provide services that will put goods on your doorstep; why not use many of them to help create more competition that will ultimately serve our market and lives better? Additionally, if we simply buy from the same large retailers all the time, what are we communicating about the care we should have for our communities? Yes, our neighbors work at large box stores, but that is a much different enterprise than the family-run hardware store down the road or the independent book store, each who have been a part of and supported our local community for years. Does it really cost more when we keep more dollars local and out of the hands of enterprises that don’t share our interests?
It goes against my grain to not get the best price when I buy something, but I need to be better about truly recognizing what I am paying for when I make a purchase. When I think about such things, I realize that I will rarely make the perfect purchase and I will ultimately not be completely satisfied with where all my money goes. Big business is not intrinsically bad, but when we completely separate the economy from the influence it has on human lives or enable too much control to go into the hands of a few corporations, I believe that is bad for us. With a little more discipline, I can do better for my family and our society. The cheapest and easiest way rarely is.