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It’s Black Friday again, the day when Americans (Canadians, and I guess others coming along like the British and Australians) seem to go shopping-silly in a mad frenzy to buy Christmas presents before all-the-good-stuff is gone.

Against my better judgment I ventured out, but only because my number one wife’s car needed a blown tire replaced so she’d once again have a spare. I survived two hours “out among ‘em,” got the tire, and came home asap.

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving, generally considered the busiest shopping day of the year. Last year and this, in the midst and, one hopes, the nadir of a recession, people chased off to the mall as early as they could. Our oldest son in Florida works in management with Target Stores, Inc. He worked all day and evening on Thanksgiving, then went into the store at 3:00 am this morning to be ready for his store’s 4:00 am opening. Several other discount stores did the same. Sure am glad to know I could have shopped at 4:01 am.

Black Friday is now joined by its youthful cousin Cyber Monday. This is next Monday. The term and apparently the practice have been around since 2005. Cyber Monday is ostensibly the day online retailers experience their biggest, busiest shopping day. People surf the Internet, pick and click, PayPal, and Confirm. It gives new meaning to “Shop Till You Drop.”

I have no problem with people shopping. Unlike how a majority of men feel about shopping if folklore and anecdote are guides, I like to shop. At least I like to go malls and walk retail space looking at the sights. I don’t buy much, if anything, but especially at Christmas time I like to experience the Christmas lights and wonder.

When I go shopping with Sarah she usually works maybe 3 stores, thoroughly and purposefully, while I case the entire mall. This has been our pattern since our dating years. Even B.C.P., Before Cell Phones, she knew where to find me. When she’s ready to do something else she looks for the Barnes and Noble or other bookstore, knowing I’ll be in one of the aisles or sitting in the bookstore coffee shop (Starbucks at B&N) enjoying a java and reading whatever I’ve gleaned—great way to wrap a shop-walk workout.

Yet I get weary when media outlets offer running reports on how worried retailers are and how far we’re likely to be behind financial projections in the year’s final quarter. This is not this year’s report. The moaning and groaning sound the same every year no matter what the economy is doing, because we’re always spending less than retailers wish we’d spend in their stores.

This is understandable, but what concerns me more is when media equate our happiness and even our general wellbeing with how much we spend. Spend more and be happier is the underlying mantra of economic news reports.

This spending equals happiness philosophy is more bothersome when it’s attached to Christmas. The spirit of the season, a truly special time of year affecting people of no-faith as much as people of faith, is co-opted, transposed, and reissued. Spending rather than the babe in the manger becomes our savior. If we’d just spend more in the Christmas season it will all be a better season.

I don’t think I overstate this feeling, nor do I think I’m turning into Ebenezer Scrooge. Far from it. I’ve already said I like the time of year and shopping, and I like to spend money on nice things for loved ones as much as anyone.

What I’m saying is that how much we have to spend has nothing to do with our happiness and certainly not our wellbeing. Discerning this truth is one of the great messages of Christmas.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

A young French woman was asked why she felt justified in protesting the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 years. She replied, “Because we’re French and we do things differently.”

But then, that’s the problem. The French aren’t as different from the rest of the world as they’d like to think they are. They, like the Greeks and the rest of us, have to pay the piper. Wish though they might, there ain’t no free lunch.

The recognized retirement age in the United States stands at 65 years. Most European countries are similar: Britain-65 men, 60 women; Germany, Netherlands, Belgium-65; Austria 65 men, 62 women; Switzerland 65 men, 64 women, Norway and Denmark, 67. All of these countries are considering raising their retirement age in order to deal with deficit budgets.

Spanish citizens recently protested officials’ plans to raise their retirement age from 65 to 68 years. Greece made international news earlier this summer with riots protesting government budget cuts including changing their retirement age from 58 to 60 years. Italy bests them all with a retirement age of 57 years, 56 for manual workers.

This is all well and good, except someone must pay for the benefits being dispersed and, given global economic downturns, 35-40 years of pension contributions cannot now handle the expectation. So who pays?

The protesters would have us believe a) governments are stealing and/or hiding money, b) pension managers have mismanaged funds (which may to some extent be true because they aren’t infallible, but it’s not the root of the problem), c) the government can simply increase debt and take care of the challenge for now, or d) if you live in America, increase taxes.

Some of the French I’ve heard interviewed act as if an early retirement age is a birthright intrinsically French, that it’s been around forever and how dare anyone suggest anything different. But the French 60-year retirement age was adopted in 1982 by the socialistic government of Francois Mitterrand. His legacy is an indebted, burdened society.

Of course increasing debt or continuing unfunded benefits simply passes along the cost to pension-holders’ children and grandchildren.

The French think they’re different, but they have to pay for services rendered too. They, and many Americans, want to live beyond their means, which translates to live off the next generation. If we don’t change the path we’re on our legacy will be an indebted, burdened, possibly backward future for our grandchildren.

Retirement is not immoral, but it’s neither a biblical mandate nor an ideal. If you can afford it, more power to you. But the operative word is “afford.” If you or we can’t afford it and we forge ahead anyway we’ve got our heads buried in the sand. The French seem to be walking the beach ahead of us.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.