New York Times economics reporter Peter Goodman certainly can't be accused of dry writing. Goodman constantly draws attention to his economics stories (often well-positioned by editors) with sharp criticism of capitalism, and he reached a new level of leftist abstraction in his Sunday Week in Review piece on the early-morning shopping stampede at a Long Island Wal-Mart that resulted in the trampling death of an employee, "A Shopping Guernica Captures the Moment."
From the high-brow yet histrionic headline (here's some background on the German bombing of the Spanish city of Guernica) to the inflated prose, it's good, chewy bias in Goodman's favored Marxist professor mode (as prominently displayed in his December 2007 story headlined "The Free Market: A False Idol After All?").
Goodman is eager to paint the Wal-Mart rampagers as some species of victim -- if not of capitalism directly, then the marketing that is selling capitalism to the people in this time of crisis.
From the Great Depression, we remember the bread lines. From the oil shocks of the 1970s, we recall lines of cars snaking from gas stations. And from our current moment, we may come to remember scenes like the one at a Long Island Wal-Mart in the dawn after Thanksgiving, when 2,000 frantic shoppers trampled to death an employee who stood between them and the bargains within.
It was a tragedy, yet it did not feel like an accident. All those people were there, lined up in the cold and darkness, because of sophisticated marketing forces that have produced this day now called Black Friday. They were engaging in early-morning shopping as contact sport. American business has long excelled at creating a sense of shortage amid abundance, an anxiety that one must act now or miss out.
For decades, Americans have been effectively programmed to shop. China, Japan and other foreign powers have provided the wherewithal to purchase their goods by buying staggering quantities of American debt. Financial institutions have scattered credit card offers as if they were takeout menus and turned our houses into A.T.M.'s. Hollywood and Madison Avenue have excelled at persuading us that the holiday season is a time to spend lavishly or risk being found insufficiently appreciative of our loved ones.
After some hyperbole about working hours "being slashed" and health benefits being "downgraded or eliminated altogether," Goodman concluded:
In a sense, the American economy has become a kind of piñata -- lots of treats in there, but no guarantee that you will get any, making people prone to frenzy and sending some home bruised.
It seemed fitting then, in a tragic way, that the holiday season began with violence fueled by desperation; with a mob making a frantic reach for things they wanted badly, knowing they might go home empty-handed.