Really? American Retailers At “War With The American Family?”

Austin Hill

10/20/2013 12:01:00 AM - Austin Hill

Did you hear the big news? American retailers are carrying out a “war on the American family.”

Seriously. That’ s how some media hosts and pundits are characterizing the fact that many American retailers are planning to keep stores open on Thanksgiving Day.

And then there’s social media that all abuzz about the shocking, horrific developments. “Because I believe in family, I pledge to NOT shop on Thanksgiving” the much-shared Facebook “avatar” reads. “If I’m shopping, someone else is working and not spending time with their family. Everyone deserves a holiday.”

Well, how about this: if I’m shopping in a store – on Thanksgiving Day or any other day – then, yes, somebody else is working. And given that roughly one-third of the entire population of the United States is not working at all right now; and that the country’s labor force participation rate is at a thirty year low; and that the consumption of the federal Foodstamps and Medicaid welfare programs is at an all-time high – I’m thinking that if somebody is ambitious enough to work, even on Thanksgiving Day, then that’s a good thing.

Beyond that, this ginned-up crisis is foolish, for several important reasons:

A) This is not new: converging Thanksgiving Day, the “holiday” season and retail shopping has a long history in the U.S., dating as far back as the 1920’s with President Herbert Hoover. Given that he and his predecessor President Franklin Delano Roosevelt both governed during a market crash and the “Great Depression,” they both saw the overall economic benefits of robust retail sales. FDR is generally credited with forging the so-called black Friday “tradition,” and retail businesses has been perfecting it ever since. And, in case it matters, Hoover was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat – so the whole holiday shopping craze, distasteful as it may be to some, is actually very “bi-partisan.”

B) Even though the fussing is happening today, Thanksgiving Day shopping started last year: I don’t recall seeing or hearing the “war on the American family” last year. But national retailers Aeropostale, Banana Republic, Big Lots, CVS, Family Dollar, The Gap, Kmart, Old Navy, Sears, Sony, Starbucks, Target, Toys'R'Us, Walgreens and Whole Foods were just a few of the businesses that began newly expanded Thanksgiving Day operational hours in November of 2012. Why is this suddenly offensive now?

C) Participating in Thanksgiving Day shopping is optional: Maybe another way to say this is “what part of ‘free’ do you not understand about the ‘free market?’” So many Americans – even many “conservative” Americans – don’t even think of what a profound blessing it is that we are not forced to purchase retail goods at a particular store or on a particular day of the week (at least not yet, anyway). Our consumer choices and freedoms contrast dramatically with the ways in which people once lived in the former Soviet Union, or as people live still today in places like North Korea and Cuba. If shopping on Thanksgiving Day is distasteful to you, then plan now to NOT do it. But seriously – is it a worthwhile expenditure of energy to protest those who might wish to shop on Thanksgiving Day, or those retailers who might wish to serve the interests of those would-be shoppers?

D) Retail is an important part of the U.S. economy, and winning in retail is already difficult enough: Because of lots of really bad public policy decisions that Americans have enabled their state and federal government agencies to make over the last many decades, for at least the last ten years or so we’ve been in this horrible situation where consumer spending is often the biggest energizer of the entire national economy. America is mostly adverse to chopping down trees for timber or drilling oil for the global market (Canada, New Zealand and Australia, by the way, have been quite happy to fill those niches while we’ve sat on the sidelines), and we don’t manufacture nearly as much as we could, so consumer spending has taken a dangerously prominent spot in the overall economic picture and retail success is more important than ever.

Add to this the fact that both conservative and liberal Americans seem to love retail boycotts. Liberal Americans boycott Starbucks because the company won’t prohibit customers from legally carrying private firearms in to their stores, while conservative Americans boycott Starbucks because the company’s CEO supports homosexual marriage. Liberals boycotted Whole Foods earlier this year because their CEO stated the obvious – that Obamacare is destroying the employment market – and conservatives have boycotted Costco because the company extends employment benefits to same-sex partners of their employees. The fact that Starbucks, Costco and Whole Foods are all egalitarian companies with some of the most generous compensation packages among all service industry employers doesn’t seem to matter. Many Americans seem to have a high need for being outraged and retailers are frequent targets of their emoting. Do we really need to create more of this on a day that is so important to our families?

E) There are far more egregious things about which to be outraged: You’re looking for something to rage about? How about a President who promised cheaper, more plentiful healthcare for all, yet whose signature “reform” law is driving healthcare costs upward and doctors and nurses out of their jobs? How about a Congress that exempts themselves from the Obamacare disasters, but won’t give the rest of the American population a reprieve? Do these injustices even belong in the same sentence with “shopping on Thanksgiving Day?”

Is Thanksgiving Day shopping really a problem in the grander scheme of things? Really?