Working on thanksgiving

11/28/2014 07:01:00 AM
Every thanksgiving, the media goes to war on the same topic: should anyone work on thanksgiving day? I suspect both sides know they are totally wrong on this, yet we have the fight every year anyway.

The "no" side is wrong for obvious reasons: we really do need people to work on thanksgiving day. We need policemen, firemen, and paramedics to be ready in case your turkey burns the house down. We need wreckers on hand for people who have accidents while driving to a relative's house. We need grocery stores open so you can go pick up a second turkey after you accidentally burn the first one. We need Burkerkings open for when you finally admit you don't know how to cook a turkey. And besides for many people, eight hours worth of wages is worth way more than a random thursday off--not everyone who works on thanksgiving was forced to, and not everyone gets paid time off.

At the same time, there's something seriously wrong with the "shut up and work" crowd. Is there anything more contrary to this very holiday than your thankless ungrateful attitude? Whether or not they wanted to work on thanksgiving, these workers are heroes that deserve our appreciation and sympathy. But the fact is that the labor market is not an efficient one. In an efficient market, we'd expect to see wages rise on holidays--when fewer people are willing to work--as a way to persuade workers to elect to work on the holiday. But that doesn't happen because employers can bundle holiday hours with the rest of the labor contract, demanding that workers show up on holidays at their regular wage, or they get fired permanently without so much as a reference for their resume. Economists ask for trouble when they model the labor market as a spot market--it is actually a type of marriage market, and spot prices mean nothing. The bottom line is that many workers really are coerced into working on holidays, denying them the opportunity to spend time with their family. We can both appreciate their service and sympathize with them.

So, if you were one of the heroes who kept our first-responders, hospitals, stores, and restaurants open on thanksgiving, this one's for you: THANK YOU.