Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Preventing consenting adults from making transactions - Thanksgiving edition

Many stores are now open on Thanksgiving night.  Not everybody is happy about it.

Link here

And here

And here

In these stories, and in other places you see quotes against it. E.g., our local newspaper, The Daily Item, had these facebook comments:
"My mother has to give up her Thanksgiving holiday to be at work. Greedy coorperation can't give employees a break. I don't agree with it at all. I feel anyone who thinks they "have" to shop on Thanksgiving doesn't know the true value of family."
and this:
"As an RN, I worked Thanksgiving. Healthcare is a 24/7 job and I was paid well to do it. I didn't like it, but accepted it because that is part of the job. Retail is not!! These ppl get paid little more than minimum wage. Nobody is going to die if they don't get quite what they wanted for Christmas...Employees should be home with their families, not filling the coffers for some rich corporation who couldn't give a shit about their employees."

My thoughts:

1. These stores all want profits, but they only profit from being open on Thanksgiving because their customers want this.  The market for retail sales seems reasonably competitive, and this change to be open on Thanksgiving is clearly a direct response to meet consumer preferences.

2. The workers at these stores have a choice.  They could choose not to work on Thanksgiving.  If they're valuable enough to the store, the store will allow that.  If they're not, they may have to find a different job.  They should know that it's likely that the next best job they could obtain will offer lower pay, but that's the trade off: if a person wants a more-ideal schedule, he or she generally will have to accept lower pay.  These workers are receiving more money than what they could otherwise for working a shift that is not as appealing.  Economists call this "compensating wage differentials".  It is the same reason plumbers generally make more than Kindergarten teachers.  Being a teacher is more non-monetarily satisfying, and that translates to a higher supply of teachers and a lower wage relative to plumbers.

3. So for those who don't like that stores are open on Thanksgiving, what do you want to do? Even if you think that the stores are greedy, and want to shut them down ... what is your proposal?

One option someone might say is that stores can't be open on Thanksgiving.  This raises several questions, however.  Are stores allowed to open at midnight?  Are you going to ban them from having workers in at 9:00 PM Thanksgiving night to prepare?  What about e-commerce?  Are you going to force the Internet stores to shut down also?  What about those who really want the extra money: Are you planning to compensate them for not working?

4. Those who are complaining want to enforce their values on the rest of society.   They want to prevent consenting adults from engaging in mutually beneficial transactions.  This isn't like Obamacare or government regulations - where failing to take an action can put you in jail - everybody involved is making a choice without government interference.  This is about freedom.  Should people and firms have the freedom to operate as they wish?  Some people clearly think they should not.

1 comment:

  1. Of course stores should have the option of opening and closing whenever they want. Few reasonable people, and I venture to guess no economists, would debate that ( which goes to show how many unreasonable people are out there.
    As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and in this case, the pudding seems to have been half swallowed.
    Sales were not impressive on the day, considering the additional costs accrued, as well as the ill-will generated, this may not have been an optimal strategy. It also seems to be a strange move given that online purchases are becoming more important, a grand stand play to keep people going to mortar and brick structures.
    But as you say, this is about freedom. We have the freedom to make bad choices as well as good.
    We'll have more information about the experiment when we see stores' decisions next year.