Is 24 hour, 365 day a week shopping a sign of progress?

Recently a reader asked whether economic growth was increasing living standards and why economic growth was not leading to more leisure time in developed economies. – Is economic growth necessary?

Not only is leisure time not increasing, but it is becoming more common for ‘special holidays’ to become just another retail day.

In the US, stores used to be closed for the whole of Thanksgiving – an important national holiday. Traditionally a time for families to spend time together. However, the day after Thanksgiving is such a retail bonanza that shops are moving opening times earlier and earlier. Now, big stores like Walmart, Gap  and Target are opening on Thanksgiving – hoping to benefit from the earliest rush of consumer spending. From a business perspective, it makes sense to capitalise on this boom in retail sales. Shops which stay closed on Thanksgiving missed out on this surge in retail sales. But, the extra time for shopping  comes at the cost of workers being pressured to work on national holidays and miss an important chance to spend time with their families.

Companies may point to the fact that some workers don’t mind working on national holidays, and are grateful for the opportunity to earn overtime. However, labour unions argue this ignores the reality that most workers would like to spend time with their family, but feel no alternative but to work.

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