Irish Examiner view: Our shopping choices were never so important

Positive localism would be a reassuring and wise declaration of solidarity during a difficult time for many businesses
Irish Examiner view: Our shopping choices were never so important

Ann Doherty, chief executive Cork City Council; Lord Mayor, Cllr Joe Kavanagh and Lady Mayoress, Stephanie Kavanagh watch as Cork City Lights Up for Christmas and kickstarts the city’s seasonal celebrations. The Irish Examiner is urging you to support local retailers this Christmas. Picture:  Darragh Kane

Just as the long-or-short fashion around hemlines fluctuates across the decades, the debate around the size of government fluctuates too. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, a programme of public works and regulations enacted to counter the wild west culture that led to a Great Depression in 1929 was one highwater mark in that never-ending debate. That Roosevelt wore the criticisms of a newly-challenged corporate America as a badge of honour is an indication of how volatile and very difficult that debate was.

It took more than half a century for one buttress of Roosevelt's protections to topple. President Bill Clinton, in 1999, diluted the 1932 Glass–Steagall rules that controlled banking. 

Though Clinton still rejects the charge, myriad economists see that relaxation, that faith in bankers' capacity to control their ambitions, as a misjudgment that led to another Great Depression, this time from 2008. 

That, in the four years from 2008 America's Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation closed 465 failed banks silenced the debate around the size and role of the state. Nearly every insolvent institution sought state support and cost taxpayers billions. We are still paying the rescue bill for Ireland's too-big-to-fail banks. 

As is always the case when a difficulty becomes a crisis, only a state has the heft and the reserves to support meaningful interventions. As ever, the state is the protector of last resort.

That idea played out in Ireland last week when the HSE took over a dangerously dysfunctional nursing home. It played out in France too. The Paris government convinced Amazon to postpone its Black Friday sales to protect French shopkeepers unable to trade because of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire urged supermarkets and online retailers to postpone Black Friday as shops selling non-essential goods would be closed during lockdown. Amazon defered the contrived marketing event to December 4 when French shops might reopen.

This modest concession shows how all-powerful Amazon is. As retailers of all sizes struggle that company is enjoying a bonanza. It just reported third-quarter results boosted by pandemic sales which helped triple profits amid a 37% increase in earnings. 

Revenues of $96.15bn were better than expected and net income hit $6.3bn in the third quarter, compared with $2.1bn in Q3 2019. This extra income - $4.2bn in three months - was more diverted than created. 

That diversion is draining the life-blood from the retailers who make up our cities and towns, who employ our cousins and our neighbours. It really is that simple. Amazon should at least defer its Black Friday until all traditional retailers have an opportunity to compete.

The Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley and Cork County Council's Chief Executive Officer, Tim Lucey,  at the launch of Cork County Council’s Christmas campaign which is encouraging citizens to celebrate “A Real Cork Christmas” in towns and villages in the run up to December 25. Picture: Brian Lougheed
The Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley and Cork County Council's Chief Executive Officer, Tim Lucey,  at the launch of Cork County Council’s Christmas campaign which is encouraging citizens to celebrate “A Real Cork Christmas” in towns and villages in the run up to December 25. Picture: Brian Lougheed

Just as Facebook and Google, others too, have captured the data market, Amazon is changing retailing in unimaginable ways. Each of these dominant megaforces is destroying more jobs than they create but they rely on, to use a phrase from 2008, asleep-at-the-wheel consumers to do so. 

Joe Biden and the EU have promised to look at how these great forces might be controlled - just as Roosevelt did so long ago. In the meantime, we can all play our part by exercising restraint and deferring Christmas shopping until local retailers reopen. 

In a world almost characterised by a sense of powerlessness, this positive localism, this assertion of independence would be a reassuring and wise declaration of solidarity.

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