Through a top ten list, economics has the perfect lens for seeing why we eat our Thanksgiving turkey.
But let’s start with a bit of history…
Proclaimed by George Washington, Thanksgiving was at first just one day of thanks on November 26, 1789. From there, depending on where you lived, it was or was not observed until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday.
The final touch though came from Franklin Roosevelt. Because the last Thursday in November could also be the last day of the month, President Roosevelt was concerned about insufficient shopping time before Christmas. So he moved Thanksgiving back to the second to last Thursday of the month. But then a new problem developed when only 32 states issued similar proclamations. To remedy the national confusion, the Congress resolved that the fourth Thursday in November would be a Thanksgiving holiday for all of us.
So yes, the Congress established a day of thanks and a day of celebrating. However some economic thinking comes in handy when we ask why we eat turkey:
The Top 10 Economic Reasons For a Thanksgiving Turkey
10. A default option: menu is pre-set, needs minimal decision-making
9. Confirmation bias: expect turkey to be good, so it is good
8. Choice architecture: decision to consume 4500 calories influenced by menu
7. Diminishing marginal utility: first bites are best
6. Future expectations: looking forward to leftovers
5. Complementary goods: stuffing and cranberries great with turkey
4. Time cost: only 2.21 hours of work for average wage earner to buy dinner for 10
3. Inflation: at $49.12, dinner for 10 down 1.5% from 2016 whereas CPI up 2%
2. Invisible hand: brings turkeys to our table
1. Temporal discounting: short term pleasure worth long term cost.
Our Bottom Line: Happy Thanksgiving!
My sources and more: The best source I could discover for a detailed history of Thanksgiving was the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The most interesting reading though was the FDR Library’s description of how the date changed.