Volume 96, Issue 57
Friday, January 10, 2003

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Capitalism and Buy Nothing Day still at odds

November 30, 2002 was Buy Nothing Day, a day where consumers were asked not to make any purchases to display their displeasure with the environmental consequences of consumerism. The varying themes of Buy Nothing Day brought forth a slew of letters from students. The following is a collection of letters from students replying to past letters in The Gazette and debating the merits of modern capitalism.

Re: "Don't you get it folks? You are the man," Dec. 4

To the Editor:

Shopping may not be a sin, but ignorance is.

The idea behind Buy Nothing Day is not to view shopping as evil, but to make one think and reassess what one buys, where the money goes and whether it is worth the purchase.

American Thanksgiving is the kickoff to a season that tends to bring out the compulsive consumer in all of us. How much of what we buy will really be necessary? On Dec. 4, Gazette columnist Allen Chen asserted that we purchase "precisely what we need." But do we need the latest style of running shoe or a million cute plastic gadgets from the dollar store? What about another stuffed toy or video game? To suggest that we in North America are living at subsistence levels is ludicrous. Let's not kid ourselves – we are living in excess.

Aside from the irony of a culture that both prides itself on "free speech" and "free action" and also allows itself to be defined through the branded lifestyles peddled by private corporations, the fact is that we cannot continue to consume in this way. On a planet of finite resources and a booming population, there simply isn't enough.

To shrug our shoulders at global inequalities and expect other people to "suck it up" when our consumption adversely affects their quality of life is not only unbelievably crass, but an attitude that will lead to dire consequences in the future.

It's time we asked ourselves: Is it worth the purchase? Will more stuff make us happier? Who benefits if we buy – and who suffers? How will another pair of running shoes affect global inequality, biodiversity, climate stability, the security of future generations and our consumer culture?

Min Min Tong
Science I

Re: "Capitalism day: 364 days a year," Dec. 4

To the Editor:

It is obvious that the author is extremely adamant in his defense of the undeniable glories of capitalism. Mr. Watson, I do agree that capitalism does protect individual rights, and I am extremely grateful for such freedoms, however, to state that "any economic system except capitalism is equivalent to supporting slavery" is not only a grossly exaggerated evangelical-esque message, but a poorly researched (bordering upon ignorant) one as well. To quote the slave-master, Pierre Duchasse, in a recent New Democratic Party federal leadership debate, "Socialism does not mean stateism."

Let me ask the campus: remember when shoes were just shoes and then one day Nike came out with "Air Jordan's" and then shoes became something to "kill," maybe even "die," for? I am not arguing against the innovation that a free market will naturally produce, however, when does brandism replace humanism?

And finally, Mr. Watson, I am curious as to your response to this quote from the ultimate "slave-master," Roy Romanow: "Some have described it as a perversion of Canadian values that they cannot use their money to purchase faster treatment from a private provider for their loved ones. I believe it is a far greater perversion of Canadian values to accept a system where money, rather than need, determines who gets access to care."

Owen Wong
Physical Therapy I

Re: "Capitalism day: 364 days a year," Dec. 4

To the Editor:

I think it very important that Mr. Watson (in his spirited defense of capitalism) remember that capitalism is a system, a thing – it doesn't have feelings. I find it odd that only economists imbue a non-feeling system with values and moral judgments that are inherently human and socially based.

Capitalism, like anything else, does not exist in a vacuum, and while it, as a "system," may not discriminate or tread on the individual rights and freedoms of a people, human beings certainly do, and since capitalism only operates within a social context... well... you see my point.

Economics is not an island. The free market is always subject to the values and whims of the social group that controls it, and a social group WILL always control it.

And while we are at it, is Mr. Watson arguing that individual rights are inherently more important and of greater value than collective rights? Or is it just some individual rights? Can the author or another like-minded individual please explain this for me?

Dougal Campbell Martin
Social Science II

To the Editor:

Buying goods from sweat shops will never improve the lives of workers.

Corporations are careful to lease or rent land and equipment in poor countries, so they can move when they see the first signs of labour unrest. Business types call this "flexible production."

As the developed world continues to lose manufacturing jobs, we will be forced to build more gated communities and super prisons to protect the beneficiaries of our winner-take-all economic model.

People do not flock to sweat shops for the "privilege" of a job. Their ancestral lands are poisoned by mining and other primary industries. To add insult to injury, heavily-subsidized agricultural goods from developed countries are dumped on them, making it impossible to sell their surpluses. The United States has even been known to threaten Latin American countries with increased dumping if they elect left wing presidents.

Poor farmers often have to be forced off the land before going to work in sweat shops. If we really want to help the common people in poor countries, we can begin by making choices, such as purchasing fair trade coffee.

Elgin Bunston
Masters of Library and Information Science Candidate




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