THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 700, December 9, 2012
"So here's a call to arms—or at least to
keyboards—for all of those I hear wondering
what they can do to advance the cause of liberty."w3
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
Religious organizations, the media, and academics alike all lament the commercialization of the holidays; particularly the period leading up to Christmas. The retail industry, always in the critics' crosshairs, is constantly ridiculed for destroying the traditional family values and holiday spirit associated with the season. Most of this misguided criticism focuses on Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving.
Well, just like that,another Black Friday has come and gone with another wild weekend of record-breaking sales. At the same time, not content to be ignored, the parade of critics attacking Black Friday continues to grow louder and louder.
An Embodiment of the Market Process
Anyone with faith in free markets should appreciate Black Friday because it is a textbook example of economic fundamentals hard at work. First, consumers must weigh a full night's sleep versus unbeatable prices on electronics and toys. After deciding to brave the cold and the crowds, shoppers must now develop a plan and choose what sales to pursue. Simply put, the opportunity cost of waiting in line at Best Buy means sacrificing a spot at Home Depot. In response, consumers might navigate this dilemma by dividing their labor to maximize productivity. In other words, to capitalize on concurrent sales, friends might split up to stand in line at both Best Buy and Home Depot.
Retailers, on the other hand, must also make economic decisions. From a strategic standpoint, they must decide when to open and what merchandise to stock. Further, companies must decide how many employees to have on the sales floor, the number of temporary associates to hire, and how to motivate and compensate employees for working around a holiday. Often times these preparations must be made months in advance, relying solely on industry research, historical trends, and a little bit of luck.
Moreover, retailers are constantly trying to improve the Black Friday experience. Whether it is staggered sales, shopping apps for mobile devices, gift card bonuses, Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday online specials, innovation is at the heart of Black Friday. For example, many retailers offer shoppers waiting in line coffee and hot cocoa to stay warm. Some retailers even provide entertainment, such as movies and contests. In addition, in an effort to promote civility, security protection and restrooms are often provided; and to eliminate disputes over limited quantities, retailers usually distribute vouchers to shoppers waiting in line, guaranteeing inventory will not be oversold.
Black Friday Still Promotes Values
Contrary to popular belief, Black Friday actually unites people together. Who has not seen a mother and daughter spend a full day shopping or a father and son at the hardware store or friends "hanging out" at the mall? Well, Black Friday is just a day of shopping with family and friends that happens to start when most of us are asleep the other 364 days of the year.
Further, as anyone who has gone off to college or has sent children away knows, quite often Thanksgiving is the first time in months that families are together again. What better way to reconnect than by kick-starting the shopping season after a big Thanksgiving dinner? In fact, Black Friday is so popular, for many families it has become its own tradition, right next to the Thanksgiving Day Parade and NFL football.
Conversely, if time spent at home with family and friends is preferred, then skip the madness. Stay in front of a warm fire and watch football all weekend. Better yet, turn off the television and enjoy each other's company. Ironically enough, it is football, not Black Friday, that is guilty of driving a gender-based wedge through Thanksgiving and has been doing so for over a hundred years—as the men retire to watch television, while the women congregate at the table—but this, for some reason, is considered a tradition.
Moreover, Black Friday's most vocal critics so despise its continued encroachment into Thanksgiving that they are actively fighting to protect the sanctity of the holiday. These detractors, upset over the treatment of hourly employees, have every right to picket, protest, and boycott for what they believe in, even if millions of shoppers disagree.
Ironically enough, whether friends and family gather for the annual tradition or collectively despise commercialization and choose to boycott the entire experience, Black Friday still manages to bring loved ones together.
Freedom to Choose
Finally, and most important, Black Friday is optional. If you love it, have fun. If you hate it, stay home. Any consumer willing to brave the cold, the crowds, and the sleep deprivation (not to mention the potential for rain or snow) does so by choice. There are no bureaucrats, politicians, or government officials forcing customers out of bed.
For the unfortunate few that have to work Black Friday, you have my sympathies—I have worked Black Friday before. However, keep in mind that having a job is far more fulfilling than the alternative.
Given all the opportunities available—in store, online, or otherwise—ultimately customers only brave Black Friday because they choose to. Besides, any self-respecting shopper who voluntarily leaves the house in the middle of the night dressed as Santa Claus or wearing reindeer antlers and a big red nose has to be full of the holiday spirit.
Was that worth reading?