When an idea is a good one, it tends to stick. But when it has been stuck for a while, we tend to look for small flaws and forget about the strengths that made it stick in the first place. One thing we definitely do it with is capitalism, and public holidays can be blamed for bringing out some of those small flaws.
Its the 1st November. The shops have just finished peeling down their fake cobwebs and have stuck ‘reduced’ stickers on the pumpkins, and suddenly the tinsel is up, and you can’t avoid Mariah Carey. Someone says, ‘I swear Christmas comes earlier each year!’ and we all mumble and grumble in agreement, probably still too hungover from Halloween to process thoughts of the Christmas hype.
Its 1st January, and suddenly we’re surrounded by unusually eager chocolate marketing. Is this for Valentine’s or Easter? Not sure, too hungover again. Throw into the mix other holidays that seem to be plucked from thin air at the behest of the greeting card companies and it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? Is there nothing we can keep from the sticky paws of Capitalism? Nothing that can stay pure, give us some time to celebrate things like family, love, and some bearded man being pinned to some wood, without being sold something?
No, there isn’t, and it’s better that way. Capitalism, the system under which business and production are owned by private individuals and organisations rather than by the state, is the reason that we are given electronics that put the world in our palm as gifts, instead of hugs and turnips. It’s a system that relies on the spontaneous order that comes about from free individuals all acting in their own self-interest, as opposed to operating as a top-down structure, where a central state plans everything by trying to work out what is best for everyone – like the Soviet Union and Maoist China. The commanding principle of capitalism and free markets is that no one can force people to do or enter into anything that they do not want to do or enter in to. This means that every deal and transaction in a capitalist system is voluntary and, because individuals know what’s better for themselves than politicians, each transaction is mutually beneficial. That is why when you run into the corner shop on the day before Christmas Eve because you forgot to get cranberry sauce, you say thank you to the cashier and they say thank you back. This would be a weirdly awkward exchange if one of you was simply doing the other a favour.
As our very own Adam Smith famously said, ‘it is not from the benevolence of Michael Bublé that we expect our bluesy Christmas classics, but from his regard for his own self-interest’. Cadbury’s make the delicious Crème Eggs because they know they’ll make money. Linda McCartney makes her festive vegan range not by decree of the government but because she is aware of a demand. Naturally, if companies see an opportunity to extend the time they have to make profits on certain holiday products, they’ll take it. Hence why holidays ‘start’ extremely early. The alternative is putting ‘the people’ in charge, by which we really mean the state. Government control would certainly stop the over-commercialisation of public holidays, but the issue is it would also stop the production of enough food for everyone. This is because the government is largely incompetent, and if tasked to do something, normally do it wrong, or too late, for much more money than everybody first thought or, as is usually the case, a tasty cocktail of all three (see: ‘the Millenium Dome, ‘HS2’, and ‘Venezuela’).
The amount of knowledge, innovation and action that goes into the things that make these holidays for us – music, decorations, presents, lights, cards, chocolate – is so incomprehensibly vast that it’s only possibly brought about by thousands of people, with specialist expertise, acting freely and in response to a series of demands and incentives. No one person or committee or government could ever have all of the knowledge required that goes into getting the plastic star to sit on top of your Christmas tree. Capitalism makes that happen. Capitalism really is a Christmas miracle.
Remember this each time you get weary at unnecessarily early Christmas adverts, annoying amounts of egg/bunny-based marketing and buying cards for holidays you swear didn’t exist last year. But, also remember that you can always boycott the evil capitalist system to return to good, proper, traditional family holidays. You’re free to do that. You can ignore the shops and the commercialisation, refuse to play Wham and stay at home with your family for a nice loaf of home-made bread. More power to the people? More Crème Eggs for me.