Through a top ten list, economics has the perfect lens for seeing why we eat our Thanksgiving dinner.
10. The Value of a Default:
- Because the menu is pre-set, we rarely change it.
9. Confirmation Bias:
- The Thanksgiving meal is good because we expect it to be good.
8. Choice Architecture:
- Our Thanksgiving menu skyrockets our calorie consumption to over 3,000.
Those 3,000 calories are equal to…
7. Diminishing Marginal Utility:
- The first bites are the best bites. After that we get less extra pleasure.
6. Future Expectations:
- Some of us demand less during dinner because we look forward to leftovers.
5. Complementary Goods:
- Stuffing and cranberries are great with turkey.
- It takes approximately 4 hours of work for someone that earns an average wage to pay $46.90 for this year’s Thanksgiving meal for 10.
- At $46.90, dinner for 10 is down $2.01 from 2019.
2. The Invisible hand:
- Because of the market system, we have lots of Thanksgiving turkeys.
1. Temporal discounting:
- Thanksgiving dinner gives us considerable short term pleasure. But there is a long term cost.
Next, some history could be helpful too…
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, a day of celebrating, and a day of thinking economically.
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. And do also look at all the American Farm Federation says about the Thanksgiving meal.
This year’s post is an updated version of Thanksgiving, 2018.