Sunday, 21 January 2007

The Economics of Christmas

I recently wrote to a couple of newspapers about their coverage of “The Economics of Christmas”. They didn’t publish what I had to say but, thanks to the democracy of the internet, I am not subject to that decision – I can publish them myself here!

In response to an article in the Independent on Sunday, 7 January 2007:

Sir/ Madam,

The Independent's historical willingness to devote its front page to the issue of climate change and other environmental problems is admirable. Admirable but also hypocritical: I am regularly irritated by the large spaces devoted to adverts for cheap flights. Running more deeply though is an attitude which pervades the paper's reporting of economic matters, and it is an attitude which is most evident at this time of year.

As retail groups release their figures for the Christmas period considerable space is devoted to discussion of how these groups fared in their bid for the British shoppers' Christmas pounds (M&S, Next and Majestic have all been the subject of recent articles). The end point of this process will be an announcement of the overall performance of the retail sector. Implicit in this discussion is the idea that the more we spend, the healthier the economy and therefore (by a mysterious and rarely examined process) the happier the residents of this fair isle.

The fact remains though that we are in danger of consuming our way to oblivion. A journalistic dogma has long been that "economic growth is good" and yet this idea is revealed every day as absurd. Every Easy Jet ticket we buy helps boost the economy and helps destroy the planet. Similarly the Christmas orgy of consumption, although it might make the shareholders of M&S happy, is a catastrophic waste of our planet's resources.

The Independent has a proud history of journalistic innovation. I ask that you therefore consider the following: In reporting the economics of Christmas a proper emphasis should be laid on the environmental and social consequences of our consumption.

Yours sincerely,

In response to an article in The Observer, 7 January 2007:


Ruth Sunderland's decision to abstain from retail therapy is admirable but perhaps she should think again about her decision to reject the "anti-capitalist hairshirt". In light of warnings of impending climate chaos it seems to me that a substantial rethink is required with regard to the economics of Christmas, and I point the finger first of all at newspapers like the Guardian and the Observer.

Since Christmas a series of articles have appeared in these papers reporting how retail groups have fared over the festive season (M&S, Next and Gap have all been the subject of recent articles). This culminates in articles like Thursday's "Sale season holds no cheer for high street" in which a downturn in sales is reported as an unambiguously disastrous event.

There is however every reason to think that humanity is in dire need of a downturn in sales for we are in danger of consuming our way to oblivion. Whether it be cheap flights to Europe or cheap durables imported from every corner of the globe, our appetite knows no bounds. Unlike the resources of the planet.

It is not good enough for Guardian journalists to stick to the old dogma that "economic growth is good" and neglect to report the catastrophic social and environmental consequences of our Christmas consumption. I expect better.

Yours sincerely,