I have no shortage of things I think other people should do or believe. Heck, my job as an economics educator, researcher, and communicator is to try to convince people to change their minds. Id like to convince you to raise a glass of eggnog to some of the unappreciated heroes of the holiday season: the people who work at stores and restaurants that are open on Christmas.
Youve read the chin-stroking think-pieces about what it says about us as a society that stores and restaurants are open on Christmas and that Black Friday is starting on Thanksgiving itself. Theres even a clever Teen Titans Go! spoof of A Christmas Carol in which Starfire learns the true meaning of Black Friday.
I dont think we should be worried about Thanksgiving turning into Black Friday Eve or stores and restaurants ignoring the reason for the season for a few reasons.
First, and most obviously, not everyone celebrates Christmas. The Puritans actually banned it, thinking it merely Christendom-coated paganism. This is obviously too far, but part of living in a decent, pluralistic, and cosmopolitan society is (wait for it) tolerating others choices and beliefs, even when you think those choices and beliefs are mistaken.
Second, the stores and restaurants that are open on Christmas are your all-important safety valve. Every parent should know that batteries not included is the standard, but of course, its hard to remember every little detail. Raise your hand if youve been bailed out by a store open on Christmas morning, and raise a glass to the people who were there with that accessory you needed lest Christmas be ruined, ruined, ruined.
Third, commerce is an act of service. The world is filled with people who have goals different from yours, beliefs different from yours, and who face constraints different from yours. They dont get dressed for work and go to work on Christmas because they like you, necessarily. Again, they have their own lives to live and problems to solve. It just so happens that they are best able to live their own lives and solve their own problems by helping you live your life and solve your problems (like, say, the emergency need for batteries on Christmas morning or the emergency need for a Christmas meal when the neighbors dogs eat your turkey).
At this point, you might be thinking but what about those with far more limited choices whose employers say be there on Christmas morning or else? They have my sympathy. Seriously. But the problem they face is not the narrow problem of a cold, unfeeling Scrooge-like boss with no Christmas spirit but the broader problem of having limited options. We could pass a law saying people arent allowed to work on Christmas, but that would leave some of us out in the cold (see batteries not included, above), deprive others of income-earning opportunities, and importantly lead to labor market adjustments on other margins. We make a job in retail more attractive on one marginmandatory, guaranteed holidays off!but this attracts people into retail work. Competition on the supply side of the labor market means that people adjust by accepting something less-attractive along another margin. The most obvious would be wages: we guarantee people holidays off, but competition for these newly-attractive new jobs reduces wages. To fix that, suppose we pass another law fixing wages above a certain level. That just changes the margin of adjustment and maybe non-holiday schedules become less flexible. Or people lose other benefits. The number of ways to adjust are practically infinite. Jonathan Meer discusses this on a recent episode of the Economics Detective Podcast about the minimum wage.
As the economist David Henderson has said, we dont make people better off by prohibiting from making the choice they would actually make. To the extent that there is a solution, it is to make the labor market more competitive on the demand side.
Instead of fretting about the choices other people make, enjoy the holidays with your friends and families. And honor those staffing restaurants and stores for their service and your convenience.
|Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Associate Professor of Economics at Samford Universitys Brock School of Business.|