Can we talk about capitalism?

Mind and Soul

November 16, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 23
Randy Haluza-DeLay | Columnist
(Unsplash photo by Debora Bacheschi)

Do you celebrate Buy Nothing Day? For me it’s like a holy day, a short version of Lent—that disruption of the ordinary that makes me notice the taken-for-granted and the practices of the gospel.

The intent of Buy Nothing Day is that for a single day one does not purchase anything. No economic transactions. Live the day with whatever you have. Notice how it feels.

One year, I failed to plan and had to get to work without my car because it had no gas. I really noticed Buy Nothing Day that year!

The day began in 1992 as a form of “culture-jamming,” promoted by the non-profit magazine Adbusters. Buy Nothing Day takes place on the fourth Friday of November (November 24 this year), the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. That day is also known as Black Friday, the traditional “kickoff” to the Christmas shopping season and the busiest shopping day of the year.

Having one day a year where some people choose not to buy anything doesn’t much affect the economy. It might affect the neighbourhood coffee shop, so go back to the local shop more often and avoid the chains. Small businesses are better levers for local economies anyway.

Over the years, much of the blame for the commercialization of Christmas has been on individual consumerism. Consumers have choice for sure, which Buy Nothing Day highlights. But can we talk about capitalism itself?

This is risky terrain!

Capitalism is an ideology and a system. An ideology is a single-minded focus on whatever comes before the -ism. Capitalism puts accumulation of wealth at the centre of our social systems, with tax structures, education practices and social expectations in full support.

I’m not against the incentivization of risk-taking and business opportunities. Most of us hope for more money at the end of the year than in January. Still, this puts everyone on a competitive treadmill. It also misses the fact that none of us alone can do much to change things unless we choose to step outside of the system.

A capitalist system treats everything like a commodity. We have a housing affordability crisis because in this system, a better business decision is to go for the higher profits of higher-end construction, unless construction is also motivated by other values.

Maybe you recall the phrase, “Live simply so that others can simply live.” It accurately recognizes that the global economy is interconnected and that the bulk of resources from the planet go to a minority of humanity.

What the phrase misses is that most economic activity is concentrated in the hands of relatively few people.

So, can we talk about capitalism? Can we talk about a system that emphatically produces winners and losers and obscene wealth concentration?

Can we implicate capitalismvin draining resources from the earth? Can we highlight capitalism’s role in global social inequality?

Peer-reviewed research shows that more money flows from the Global South to the North than the reverse. That’s a bad political economic system, a result of historical colonization and economic relations.

Can I call it an ungodly system? I confess that I benefit from it. Could it be that the capitalist economy is inconsistent with the grace of the gospel?

So, celebrate Buy Nothing Day this year. Make it a day of consumer fasting, reflection and prayer.

Plus, be peculiar and take a risk by talking about capitalism.

Randy Haluza-DeLay lives in Toronto and can be reached at

(Unsplash photo by Debora Bacheschi)

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Great piece. We were discussing sustainability yesterday in a faculty/student gathering on campus and concluded that any definition of sustainability that did not mention capitalism was suspect. It is a very open question right now as to whether the two are compatible.

I wonder how this is being discussed in business schools.

They probably refer to "compassionate capitalism" (which is economics with morality?-not taught that way, maybe a side course in "business ethics"), or "triple bottom line" but not even the simple critiques mentioned in the article (draining resources from the Global South, expansionism of capital, etc).

Thank you for daring to talk about capitalism, it is a system that I have grown up within, and didn't think about it much until in recent years, as I learned about alternatives (such as Indigenous traditions). When I grew up, words like socialism or communism were considered evil. As I get older, I want more cooperation (instead of competition), more equitable income and resource sharing (resulting in less crime & punishment), more connection to nature (and less emphasis on working in offices & tech), less hierarchy, less material goods... and I'm slowly changing how I spend more time to create my world around these new values.

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