Jack Knox: Scooping money out of our economy gives us the Black Friday blues

Since the phenomenon spread to Canada, it turned out that we were just as capable as our neighbors to fire all the Lord Of The Flies at each other if you dangle a $12 toaster in front of our faces

I still don’t get Black Friday, at least not in Canada.

It was okay when it was just an American phenomenon, with all those videos of Americans behaving badly.

Typical was a shot of Arkansas customers jostling like pigs at the trough and screaming as they scrambled for $2 waffle irons, with one customer not knowing — or caring — losing her pants in the process.

In Philadelphia, a woman used a stun gun on another as they duked it out in a mall. In Los Angeles, 15 people, including children, were sprayed with pepper spray during a fight over an Xbox. A Texas man stomped on an elderly woman when he snatched a television from her hands. YouTube offered compilations of Black Friday brawls. There was an ongoing casualty count on BlackFridayDeathCount.com.

Devout Canadians, always happy to feel smugly superior, swallowed it up.

Except for the Black Friday phenomenon sweeping into the Great White North, and it turns out we were just as capable as our neighbors of going all Lord of the Flies on each other if you dangle a $12 toaster in front of our faces.

And again, Black Friday in Canada makes no sense anyway. The sale is built around the extended long weekend of American Thanksgiving, a holiday we don’t celebrate.

Where Americans have the day off, Canadians have to log in to Amazon when the boss isn’t looking.

So why have our retailers adopted Black Friday? Self defense. They were forced to react as increases in tax-free limits and the rise of online shopping sent consumer dollars flowing south.

In fact, the rise of online shopping is one of the reasons Black Friday violence has declined in recent times. Potential buyers can only stick their keyboards, not each other, as they race to buy the last Peace on Earth ornament on the cyber shelf.

The appeal of online shopping is obvious. You don’t have to leave the house. You don’t have to risk catching COVID from strangers. You don’t have to put on pants.

The question is, when you shop online, where do you buy? Is it from the local merchant who pays local taxes and employs local people, who also pay taxes and contribute to the local economy, or are you just scooping your money out of the country, never to be seen again?

OK, we get it. Sometimes the savings of shopping abroad can be too good to pass up. Choosing not to squeeze every dollar out of a pay check (or a retirement check) is a luxury many can’t afford. Indeed, it’s not that traders don’t do the same; retailers who order their stock from China and advertise on social media can’t complain if their former customers start shopping cross-border as well.

The problem is that at some point we will all save so much money that we will go bankrupt. However we justify it, pumping money out of our economy has consequences, causing us to pay less for everything from hospitals and schools to parks and pickleball.

Bruce Williams, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, speaks of a hierarchy. A major retail chain that employs local people does more for the local economy than an over-the-horizon outfit, but a local business, a business that keeps its profits here and supports local causes (look at the names of the sponsors at your charity event T-shirts) is even better. “Ask yourself how local your purchase is,” he says.

“Anything you can find online you can buy locally, with a few exceptions,” says Williams. Okay, maybe not pineapple. But the most ordered items, such as books and clothing? If you’re having trouble finding something, check the directory at victoriachamber.ca, which sorts businesses by category.

That’s actually the problem, right? We all know where to find stuff. We also know, on some level, that we collectively suffer when local businesses go bankrupt and the money they spend and the jobs they provide disappear with them.

We just struggle to remember those companies and jobs, or the nice shopkeeper who sponsored your kid’s team, or the $25.5 billion in taxes the county will spend on health care this year, or the $8 million that the city of Victoria will splurge on pavement and potholes, while we can keep an extra seven dollars in our pocket by having a waffle iron shipped here from who knows where.

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