Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.”     Frederick Bastiat

November 25, 2005

Massachussetts’ Blue Laws

by Eric

Doesn’t this seem a bit over the top? Even for the People’s Republic of Massachussetts?

Massachusetts’ attorney general is launching an investigation into several supermarkets that opened on Thanksgiving in defiance of the state’s Puritan-era Blue Laws.

Then again, maybe the author of the article is a bit over the top, considering the later quote from the owner of the supermarket, the Super 88.

Super 88 officials said they didn’t know about the warnings.

“We don’t celebrate” Thanksgiving, said Rudy Chen, a former manager of a Super 88 in Chinatown who now works at the chain’s headquarters. He said the store he managed was always open on Thanksgiving and no one complained.

Apparently, this constitutes defiance. There is, as usual, more to the story than is being reported. Barely mentioned in this article is the fact that the Whole Foods chain of stores was prevented from being open on Thanksgiving due to these same laws and the complaint of a competitor. Here’s this article’s bit on it.

Reilly’s office had earlier warned the Whole Foods supermarket chain not to open on Thanksgiving after a competitor complained. Wal-Mart, Family Dollar and Big Lots also received warnings.

It turns out, however, that there is more to the story than just this little blurb. From an earlier article, on the Whole Foods chain:

The Massachusetts attorney general has handed Whole Foods Market Inc. a real retail turkey.

The Austin-based natural and organic foods retailer had planned to open its 14 Massachusetts stores on Thanksgiving. But the state’s attorney general, Thomas Reilly, told Whole Foods that it risked criminal charges if it conducted business that day at its Massachusetts stores, The Boston Globe reported Saturday.

[ ..... ]

Reilly’s attention was drawn to the proposed Whole Foods openings after competitor Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc. lodged a complaint. Shaw’s, based in West Bridgewater, Mass., is a division of Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s Inc.

But wait, there’s more yet. In this Boston Globe article, we discover yet more information on the whole thing.

The state’s blue laws were first enacted in the 1600s, intended to prevent colonists from straying from church or hearth to drink or transact business. In their current form, the laws ban retailers with more than seven employees from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pharmacies may stay open.

That makes no sense to me. Have you ever gone out to get the one thing you forgot, on Thanksgiving day? Usually, the only store you can find is a 7-11, which invariably does not have what you need, or does it have it, but the wrong brand. And always for a far higher price than you would pay in a regular grocery store. The esteemed Attorney General of Massachussetts explained.

Reilly told the Globe this week that tradition, and giving workers a day off, outweighs shopper convenience. ”Thanksgiving is a time when people should be with their families, not working,” he said.

A light begins to dawn. The truth is that the secular, leftist government of Massachussetts is no different from their Puritan forebears, except that they don’t like religious governments. They are still busy deciding what is best for the citizens of their state. Reilly is going to decide for you and I whether we should be able to go get that can of yams we just have to have. He’s going to decide for the employees of Whole Foods whether they can work on Thanksgiving, or not. He’s going to decide for the management of Whole Foods whether they will be able to be open, or not, on that day. It doesn’t matter to him if it is a good business decision for the store, or a good economic decision for consumers, or a good income decision for the employees.

It turns out, although I can’t find that article now, that Whole Foods was not going to require any employee to work on Thanksgiving, it would have been purely voluntary. And, rather than paying them the 150% of normal salary that is usual on a holiday, Whole Foods was going to pay the workers who volunteered 200% of their normal wage. Considering that most supermarket employees don’t earn a huge amount of money, I’m guessing that the holiday pay might have been very welcome, especially going into the Christmas shopping season. But, of course, the paternalistic government of Massachussetts knows what is best for those employees.

This is the sort of government intervention and decision making that has contributed to a 20% unemployment rate in France, and one nearly as high in Germany. When companies are deciding whether to do business somewhere, one of the things they take into consideration are laws like these, that constrain their ability to make appropriate decisions for their business. Often times they will decide to locate the business somewhere else that does not have as restrictive a business environment.

Aside from that, the question we have to ask ourselves is this. Who is better able to make these decisions? The individual citizen and business? Or the state? Ask yourself if you would rather have the option to make this decision for yourself, or not? Is it appropriate for the state to decide for you when you can and cannot work, when you can and cannot sell goods to others? Can they better determine the best outcome than you can?


Permalink || Comments (4) || Categories: Economics
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4 Comments

  1. Who Should Decide?

    Who should decide what makes economic sense for an individual? Should it be the individual? Or should it be the state? For example, should the state be able to decide that my place of employment has to close on a…

    Trackback by Eric's Grumbles Before The Grave — November 25, 2005 @ 11:02 pm
  2. The British just repleaded a blue law, their pub closing times that were a relic of WWI policy.

    http://pubcrawler.blogspot.com/2005/11/pubs-allowed-to-stay-open-after-11pm.html

    The decision belongs to the individual as do the consquences that come with those decisions.

    Comment by tkc — November 26, 2005 @ 5:16 pm
  3. repleaded = repealed

    eYe kin SPel butt EyE cint pwess duh speL chequers but0nN.

    Comment by tkc — November 26, 2005 @ 5:20 pm
  4. *laughs* and I went to all that trouble to install a spell checker and everything. You can lead a horse to water …..

    I didn’t know the Brits finally changed their pub closing times. That was one of the worst things about the couple of vacations I took to London.

    Comment by Eric — November 26, 2005 @ 6:47 pm

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