Stores to Open on Thanksgiving — Don’t Complain.

Over the past several weeks, the standard litany of holiday media stories has begun. While there is always some fun in guessing which reporter will get stuck with the “don’t set your house on fire with the deep fryer” segment, other stories are far more troubling.

Around Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season, it’s not uncommon to see stories discussing the season’s meaning and the “corrupting influence of capitalism.” Nowhere is this corruption supposedly more apparent than the idea of retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day. Many national retailers like Macy’s, JC Penney, Best Buy, Target, and Toys’R’Us will open at some point on Thursday to kick off their Black Friday sales.

Opponents of retail sales on Thanksgiving claim that “forcing” workers to come in on the holiday is wrong. In fact, the idea of stores opening on Thanksgiving is so heinous that some lawmakers are calling for new rules and regulations regarding work and the holiday. The idea is to “protect” workers from the firms that employ them.

Mike Foley, a Democrat from Ohio and author of one such bill, stated that,

 “Thanksgiving Day is supposed to be a day when we retreat from consumerism….[Y]ou don’t think about the super blockbuster sales at Target….[If retailers take Thanksgiving Day as] an opportunity to make money or get above the black line, so be it. But the fact still remains that they have the responsibility to take care of their workers.”

All right, let’s talk turkey.

It is true that retailers who choose to open on Thanksgiving do so because they see the chance to profit. This desire to profit, however, is neither nefarious nor inherently evil. In fact, profits indicate that everyone in this situation is winning.

Retailers open on Thanksgiving and other holidays because there is a demand for their goods and services. Consumers benefit from having these retailers open their doors as they are able to buy goods and services. If the majority of individuals found it morally or otherwise objectionable to open on Thanksgiving, it would no longer be profitable for retailers to open on the holiday.

But what about the worker? Is she really being extorted by her boss for making her work on Thanksgiving? Hardly. Despite what you may have heard, working on Thanksgiving does not amount to modern day slavery.

In fact, workers may benefit greatly if their employer decides to open on Thanksgiving. They are still paid for their work, and since Thanksgiving is a federal holiday, likely receive overtime. In stark contrast to being a burden on employees, working on holidays may strongly appeal to some workers in need of additional hours and more cash. Working on the holiday may appeal to other workers who either do not have family in the area, or would jump at any chance to avoid seeing their relatives. For those retail employees who strongly prefer to have the day off, it’s not unlikely they can find someone else to take their shift or work out other arrangements to accommodate their personal plans.

Thanksgiving is a day when many of us spend time with friends and family. While we may prefer to be away from work, the same cannot be said for everyone. Calls to ban stores from opening on Thanksgiving may sound appealing. Lawmakers think they are protecting workers and punishing “greedy retailers.” But this view misses the fact that exchange benefits everyone, workers included. Prohibiting retails sales because we would personally object to working on a holiday would harm not just retailers, but consumers and workers as well.

Abigail R. Hall is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Tampa.
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