Virtually every American knows that the biggest shopping day of the year is Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving. Yet over the past couple years, Black Friday has expanded, and now begins on Thursday night. This trend has brought with it some unexpectedly heated moral debate.

On one side, there are those who believe the government should pass and enforce laws, as is being done in several New England states, that prevent stores from opening on Thanksgiving night. Their argument: Thanksgiving is a national holiday designed not for spending money on sales, but for spending time with family and perhaps getting some much-needed rest. People should not be forced away from their families simply to go operate a sales register that will otherwise be open in the next morning. 

On the other side, there are consumers who argue that state governments taking such actions are overstepping their bounds, and restricting consumer demands. Consider this editorial in the Massachusetts-based Newburyport Daily News:

… railing against this —- or legislating against this — is like trying to hold back the tide. If shoppers want to shop, they’ll do it, even if they have to drive across the state border to find a mall that opens on Thanksgiving. And if shoppers are buying, then retailers are going to make darned sure they’re open and selling. …

In most of the United States, stores open and close as they will on Thanksgiving, just as they do on Christmas Eve. It’s not government’s role to decree when people must give thanks or attend church or even just take a break. The best we can do is mandate that if employees are required to work, they get extra compensation.

Of course, there’s more we can do as individuals if we really believe in family values: We can stay home. If you don’t want Thanksgiving to turn into a Christmas shopping frenzy, then don’t shop. Save it for the next day.

But let’s leave government out of it.

You’ve seen this argument before: what the market demands, the market should get. And if you don’t like it, don’t partake in the activity. It’s that simple. 

Michael Sandel has argued convincingly that the expansion of market thinking to traditionally non-market areas of life comes with consequences. In this case, as Thanksgiving becomes more a day for shopping, it becomes less a day for spending time with family and rest. Of course, this line of thought does not imply a specific corrective course of action. But it does imply there is an issue worth addressing.

But how? Should the government put in place laws that restrict shopping hours on Thanksgiving? Or would we be better off with public campaigns against Black Friday creeping into Thursday night? Or should we just let things take their natural course?

Just a few questions to ponder around the dinner table this Thanksgiving …

Note: this blog will be on break until Monday, Nov. 26.