Glowing Christmas lights fill the cold streets of medieval European cities with little wooden booths selling steaming hot wine and cinnamon biscuits. However, the traditional look and idyllic atmosphere seem to be threatened by the evil of modern-day capitalism. That is, at least, the common saying of visitors of these markets. But are big companies actually ruining your favorite winter experience?
All We Want for Christmas Is… Sales
First off: Christmas markets are, at least in Europe, a billion euro industry. In 2014, the largest sales were counted in Germany with almost €2.5 billion ($2.9 billion) in revenue, followed by France with €820 million ($965 million). In a more detailed analysis on Christmas markets in the UK, researchers found that in the example of the city of Manchester, an average stall at a Christmas market generated £3,500 ($4,600) per day.
They add that if you also account for the tourism factor — as large amounts of visitors are either from abroad or coming from a different city and staying overnight — you’re seeing spending of £10 million ($13.3 million). Christmas markets in Brussels, Belgium, and Strasbourg, France count between 1.5 and 2 million visitors. The Christmas market on Paris’ Champs-Elysées counts over 200 booths and over a staggering 15 million visitors each year.
Your local Christmas market is a money-making machine regardless of it selling candles or car insurance. Claiming that the hot wine salesman in his wooden booth isn’t as interested in making a profit as Coca-Cola which is giving out free samples would mean being blinded by emotion.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like… Prosperity
The Christmas spirit is supposed to advocate for empathy and compassion, as the biblical stories describe Jesus, a poor man, who preached charity despite receiving very little of it in return. These days, most “charity” is in the hands of the government through welfare programs. The reasons to oppose the welfare state are numerous, but outside of the inefficiency and cost of government bureaucracy, both government spending on welfare and charity fail to create value.
World Bank and UN reports celebrate a global success story: between 1990 and 2008, the world cut by half the share of the world’s poor, those living on less than $1.25 a day. The United Nations also points out that 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water while the number of hungry people has declined by 20 percent in the last 20 years.
The origin of development is, of course, the wealth created by entrepreneurs and large businesses which have not only provided jobs in areas in which there were none before but whose reduced production costs have made high-end goods accessible to all.
Compare this to socialism, the likes of which create starvation in Venezuela and North Korea or unclean drinking water in Cuba, not to speak of the massive injustices and infractions on people’s individual liberty. When presented with the choice of living under authoritarian socialism or living under free-market capitalism, even those who preach socialism choose the latter.
Who Do We Celebrate?
We are aware that the success stories of free-market capitalism improving the living conditions of the poorest of the poor through reducing living costs and improving access to quality good and services. However, they fail to be the ones who are actually celebrated around Christmas for providing these essential opportunities to people. We worship those who give handouts to the poor, but we hold those who enable poor people to rise and improve their living conditions in utter disdain.
When there is a large company selling their products on a traditional Christmas market, many see a greedy company ruining the flair of the Christmas spirit. It doesn’t occur to them that millions of people are able to put food on the table and buy gifts for their children: something that prior to the emergence of free-market capitalism was a privilege reserved for the very few. All it takes to see this is to think of the millions of people oppressed by socialism, like those in Venezuela, who will, this year, spend among the worst Christmas Eves they have ever witnessed.
Next time you see a large coffee machine retailer or a booth advertising cleaning products at your local Christmas market, think of the people whose lives were made better through these companies.
The greatest gifts aren’t wrapped in paper, but stats about poverty reduction.
This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education.
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