Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Retail Stores Opening on Thanksgivig

Apparently there is a growing backlash against big-box stores opening on Thanksgiving, with threats of boycott in the air[...]
First of all, in terms of rights, there is obviously nothing objectionable about organizing a boycott for any reason whatsoever, so long as it is truly voluntary and merely involves a coordinated effort to refrain from patronizing targeted businesses.
Second, I hate unbridled consumerism as well, and can’t believe people would want to do anything Thanksgiving evening besides pass out on the couch.
But notwithstanding these caveats, I think this outrage that we hear every year is oddly selective. For example, should all gas stations, highway toll booths, bus stations, and airports be closed on Thanksgiving? If so, that would prevent a lot of people from “spending the holidays with their families.” Even if your sole criterion were to boost the amount of time people spend with their loved ones, you would need at least some critical workers at their posts on Thanksgiving Day (at least the morning and afternoon).
Beyond that, my parents are in town and we’re planning on seeing a movie before our meal. Obviously someone is going to have to be working at the movie theater for that to be possible. But I don’t see any problem here; I’m not forcing that person to be there. He or she is presumably getting higher pay for working on a holiday.
When I was younger and worked at the grocery store, I used to love working shifts on holidays. You didn’t have to putz around the house awkwardly with your relatives for a long time, you would roll in when you were done with work. You’d still see everybody, you just weren’t there the whole time. And you got paid a lot more.
More generally, there are people who don’t have family, or maybe they get really depressed on the holidays and like to keep busy with work. It’s a great solution that they are the ones who will volunteer for the holiday shifts if the other employees would rather take off.
The marketplace is a vast nexus in which people voluntarily interact, with prices guiding their decisions. It would be more convenient for workers at Best Buy if everybody would concentrate his or her electronics purchases between noon and 5pm; that way the Best Buy workers could sleep in till 11am every day. But on the other hand, that would be really inconvenient for the shoppers if Best Buy were only open from noon to 5pm on a typical day. So that’s not what happens in the market.
We see extremes in either direction, too. Certain grocery stores are open 24-7, while certain restaurants might only be open for select chunks of time catering to lunch and dinner. Again, market prices and the implied profit-and-loss signals guide all of this, but ultimately everything is voluntary. An employee who is “forced” to work Thanksgiving night might feel like a slave, but of course this is not literally correct; he or she can always quit if it’s that big a deal.
The only reason stores engage in “Black Friday” (and now Thursday) deals is that this is (apparently) profitable. To repeat, I agree that such displays–especially the people lining up outside stores and then stampeding in–are absurd. But the critics often seem to me to overstate their case, and fail to understand that this is just a specific application of a more general framework, where they happen to dislike this particular outcome.

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