Consuming America

I am a contributor to the Jarrod Thomas Show on KNOX 1310 AM radio, and a program topic from Friday had people in my office talking. Stores around the country will be opening their doors earlier for holiday shopping, including earlier on Thanksgiving evening. Is this a problem?

I could wax sentimental about the family, or the destruction thereof, and complain about the intrusion of commercialism on a sacred day, and I may before the post is done, but that is not where I want to start. Why are some stores open on holidays like Thanksgiving? Because they feel it is worth it to them. The revenues received hopefully cover expenses. Grocery stores are open, for at least part of the day, on most holidays. I lived in many different cities and was in them for different holidays, and the fact that some are open on “traditional” holidays is important, whether it was getting a forgotten ingredient for dinner, or a bottle of wine on the way to a friend’s house. So from that perspective I find value in stores being open.

Now I never worked retail. I did work other jobs that required me to work “traditional” holidays and at times different schools I attended did not have certain holidays in their calendar. I understand that some will not like to be away from their families on these days. If the store wants to be open and they do not want to work when scheduled my guess is they will need to find another job. I know some stores attempt to be proactive and make sure people have religiously affiliated holidays off, which only works with a diverse workforce.

I think it is relevant that even if the store was not open there would likely be some people working to stock the shelves and get the store ready for when it would be open. Particularly with the “Black Friday” sales following the Thanksgiving holiday I expect many would have to log some hours on Thursday to prepare the store for that madness.

But are we ready to tell consumers they are wrong? Are we ready to enact policies or workplace rules in a effort to protect consumers from themselves? There will be the usual outcry about the death of family values and the decay of the family in American life and I believe that much of that sentiment, if not all, is well-intentioned. The fact remains there will be significant lines outside the stores whenever the opening times are. These are dollars stores want to capture and they are willing to open at non-traditional times to capture them. There is a bit of strategy here as well. If one store engages in such a policy, others need to follow suit or risk losing sales.

But are we ready to enact rules to stop this? I hope not. I am not one to restrict options from individuals, even if I think they are wrong. If people want to shop on Thanksgiving night, why should we stop them? These jobs are presumably putting money into the pocket of the employees too. And if we are willing to put a stop to this with non-market mechanisms, such as a law forbidding it, then where do we stop?

Why wouldn’t we make a law barring banks from lending to people that are marginally able to afford it? Why wouldn’t we mandate big box retailers not open in areas where it may harm small businesses? Where do you draw the line? Most people recognize that the line would be drawn in different places for different people, and while there may be an overwhelming majority that would agree to something, it does not mean everyone does. Do we want to tell people willing to work on Thanksgiving that we know better what is right for them? Do we want to take money out of their pocket?

There are no easy answers, and as I mentioned I will be one using that day for family and friend time, because I can and choose to do so. I will not be lining up at the stores to get deals on items, but I do not want to judge those that do. It just seems better to let this happen than interfere with the market and make what will almost surely be a bigger disruption and worse outcome.

It seems to me that the bigger issue here is protecting consumers from themselves. Do we want to engage is social policy under the guise of economics? I think not. Much of the government interference in the marketplace has these kind of intentions and I think very little of it goes right, if any. I mean what do we want to do, encouraging home ownership for those that can’t afford it. There is no way that could go badly, is there?

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