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The Right to Trade on a Holiday

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but controversy over the holiday rages on.

Traditionally, on the day after Thanksgiving, so-called Black Friday, many Americans go shopping. Last year, some 140 million Americans spent more than $11 billion on this highly commercial day. Anti-commercial mentalities have long howled about this concentration of commerce, but now they have even more to howl about.

In the last few years, many retailers have opted to open their stores on Thanksgiving evening and to remain open all night and through Black Friday. In other words, commerce has seeped into the producers’ holiday.

Infuriated by this trend, anti-commerce groups and some employee unions are calling for the government to force retailers to remain closed on Thanksgiving. For stores to open on the holiday, they say, violates the rights of employees who are called to work.

This is absurd.

Employers and employees deal with one another entirely voluntarily; they trade via mutual consent to mutual advantage; and no one’s rights are violated by means of voluntary trade.

Employers pay employees to work—and they often pay a premium to those who work on holidays. Employees choose to work for the pay offered and under the conditions negotiated or contractually agreed to—and they often appreciate opportunities to earn extra money. Employers set a variety of standards for employees—from business hours to dress codes to productivity goals—and those who dislike such terms are free to seek employment elsewhere. No one is forced to work on a holiday or any other day.

Rights can be violated only by means of force (including fraud, extortion, or the like). Where there is no force, there is no rights violation.

It may be debatable whether being open on Thanksgiving makes good business sense for a given business. But it is not rationally debatable whether employers, employees, and consumers have a moral right to engage in commerce on a holiday.

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