God Bothering versus Zombie Shopper
by, Apr 20 2012 at 05:00 AM (401 Views)
Should we allow free markets on Sunday? Should we allow unfettered capitalism on God’s special day? On the face of it economics tells us to get out of the churches and consume, with Sunday offering specific advantages. One can simply argue that gains reflect opportunity cost of shopping time. See, for example, the rabid rampaging heinous herd in their 4x4 automobiles flocking to the DIY stores. And of course one keep the spoilt brats exercised! Nothing like the tramp through the shopper's paradise to exercise muscles starved by computer game obsession.
But hang on now! What about the other parties to this consumer utopia? Employers are often against such shopping spree. See, for example, Freathy and Sparks (1995, Flexibility, labour segmentation and retail superstore managers: the effects of Sunday trading, International Review of Retail, Distribution & Consumer Research). However, the fetishists must be sated and the individual 'choice' becomes immaterial. The businesses are forced to open on Sunday, else they run the risk of losing customers to their godforsaken competitors. And if everyone opens we’re then not creating demand (and therefore opportunities), we’re only changing the distribution of consumer demand over the week.
And the workers? Crikey, the opportunity costs are immense! They're missing 22 potential sex offenders spoil a perfectly good lawn on the football driven box. You could get all Adam Smith on me and anally assume that workers will have to be compensated for working such hours. There is no doubt that, to a marginal extent, this does happen. However, we do also have to factor in the nature of labour markets. We cannot just jump-ship and smoothly skip through ready recruitment. The labour market is characterised by monopsony power that is generated by job market frictions. “Walking away” is then not straight forward. Even for workers who are successful in moving there are imposed costs. Job turnover is not costless. You might as well waste your money on a pricey plumber. Firms therefore have power and can force workers to accept welfare harming changes. We therefore do know that the impact of forced employer hours constraints on employee well-being will be significant.
The issue is whether Sunday opening can overall be seen efficiency improving. You’d have to compare the benefits from easier shopping (e.g. saved travel time because of greater shopping opportunities) and the welfare losses forced on employees. Given the lack of sympathy for the slapdash shiftless shopper, I tend to favour the worker. Make Sunday special. Eliminate choice. Not for God, just for the crack.