Lowering the Cost of Love : Capitalism and Valentine's Day

          People lament the fact that Valentine’s Day is yet another example of a very ‘commercialized holiday.’ In fact, Valentine’s Day is so commercialized that one’s participation in the holiday is often defined by how much money is spent on things like cards, candy, dinners, flowers and other extravagant surprises. The commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day seems to be responsible for all of the bad parts about the holiday. After all, it’s easy to blame big corporations for leaving us with empty wallets, a sense of guilt for not buying a gift, and for emphasizing materialism during a day in which we specifically celebrate something immaterial. While it is true that creative entrepreneurs are doing their best to leverage Valentine’s Day into a bigger profit opportunity, big corporations and commercialized holidays make our lives and our Valentines days better.
        This past Valentine’s Day I needed to send some roses to my girlfriend in Peru. Delivering the flowers by hand would be extremely expensive in both monetary and time costs. Luckily, all I had to do was punch in a sixteen digit VISA number on 1800flowers.com to send flowers to Peru. Nearly millions of people, who I don’t know or speak the same language as, and who might not even know each other, were able to deliver roses to a town on the Amazon River that does not even have a postal code. The best part is this all worked for only a $27.00 international shipping charge. 

         My circumstance highlights the power of market coordination to make the impossible a possibility. Markets don’t only make sending flowers around the world easy; nearly every Valentine’s Day gift required extensive coordination of millions of people.  In fact, Entrepreneurs were planning and organizing capital to make Valentine’s Day celebrations possible long before the average consumer decided to think about it. Someone was planting the flowers, ordering ribbon and making chocolates long before Valentine’s Day even crossed our minds. Even though when we rush to buy Chocolates right before Valentine’s Day, we might feel frustrated for paying the full price when we all know that the same item will be heavily discounted on February 15. However, even the simplest box of chocolates requires thousands of ingredients and millions of people to produce. Dairy products for the chocolate itself, plastic for the box, and maybe even some paper for the wrapping are just a few parts of a basic candy box.
          Making the chocolate requires milk, which came from some kind of farm. On that farm a farmer managed the production of that milk. Someone else oversaw using that milk in chocolate production, and yet someone else had to grow the Cocoa necessary to make the chocolate. A chemist designed the plastic for the box, and then a packaging engineer had to figure out how shape it like a heart. While all this was happening, someone was cutting down trees to use for wrapping paper. An engineer had to design the chainsaw that the workers used to cut down the trees, and still another person had to grow the coffee beans for the coffee these workers drink during their breaks. Throughout this whole process a host of legal experts was most certainly employed to create and negotiate contracts between all the people contributing to the chocolates, and finally this legal team had to convince the FDA that the chocolates were fit to eat.
          Even though we might not like having to pay for commercialized products during Valentine’s Day, the alternative seems to be much worse. I don’t have the knowledge, skill or time to make Chocolates or prepare Roses. In fact, corporations work so hard to make products that would ordinarily be out of our productive capacity so easily attainable that without them getting even a mediocre gift might be impossible. What is even better, these companies compete with each other to constantly provide us with cheaper and cheaper prices for things we could never do ourselves. 

         Though they might profit in the process, profit seeking entrepreneurs are already working to make Valentine’s Day possible for next year. The market process is coordinating millions of people who are peacefully and voluntarily exchanging services, generating wealth and creating a better Valentine’s Day for everyone.

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