Nov 29, 2013

Thanks for the Thanksgiving Workers

Robert P. Murphy shared some interesting thoughts about folks who work on Thanksgiving on his blog recently:

Working on the Holidays

While enjoying the wonderful meal brought together for our enjoyment last night, someone predictably chimed in that it was awful that Walmart remains open on Thanksgiving.  The implicit (and unanswered) question is: why would Walmart do such a thing?  I guess they just are a bunch of money-grubbing scrooges, who wish to punish their employees due to a lack of reverence for the value of family time!

I think Murphy's take on this is worth considering:

I think this outrage that we hear every year is oddly selective. For example, should all gas stations, highway toll booths, bus stations, and airports be closed on Thanksgiving? If so, that would prevent a lot of people from “spending the holidays with their families.” Even if your sole criterion were to boost the amount of time people spend with their loved ones, you would need at least some critical workers at their posts on Thanksgiving Day (at least the morning and afternoon).

In other words, from a purely utilitarian perspective, holiday workers permit many people to travel to see family who could not otherwise do so.  (Can you imagine strapping a few extra fuel tanks to your vehicle in order to have enough gas to get where you are going, due to all the fuel stations being closed?)  In the case of Walmart, people are shopping on the day of Thanksgiving for one of two reasons:

1.  Thanksgiving is a meaningless holiday to them, and they are doing their regular shopping.  This means closing up shop would punish them for not celebrating the sacrosanct "National Holiday", in a bizarre form of collective retribution.1

2.  They are purchasing items they forgot to buy, or didn't realize they needed until the "heat of the moment".  I guess you will just have to live without the stuffing, or cranberry sauce, or whatever else it is that now is unavailable because everyone is closed!2

It becomes clear how strange this perspective of anti-Walmartism is when considering the reality of the issue.  However, those against Walmart, do not stop there!  No, no...they move even further along this twisted logical path to say it is their duty to boycott the establishment!  Of course, that's fine in the sense of boycott being a voluntary measure to take.  However, it reveals the insanity of the thought process these folks engage in: to resort to self-denial if it comes down to it to prove they are serious about their concern for these "exploited" workers!

Taking pity on those "poor souls" who are "forced"3 to work on holidays is a way to marginalize them, and is incredibly degrading to these people who stand at the ready to provide products to market at a crucial time when we are all trying to look our best for those who's opinion we value the most.  After all, when you forget an ingredient for a dish you are preparing on the holidays, they save you the embarrassment of that dish being voided due to your lack of foresight.  Instead of pitying them, perhaps they should be honored.  At the very least, these workers deserve our thanks!


1.  The liberal frowning upon Walmart is eerily reminiscent of the conservative Christian logic of forcing one's religious values upon others.  Strange bedfellows or birds of a feather?

2.  We were fortunate that the grocery stores were open where we live, because we needed several forgotten items to complete our holiday feast.

3.  Of course, the employees at these establishments who are open do not "have a gun to their head".  That tactic (the threat of violence) is never employed by capitalists, but is always employed by the state.

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