Through a Thanksgiving Top Ten list, we can see how economics has the perfect lens for understanding our holiday behavior.
Thanksgiving Top Ten List
A behavioral economist could explain some of our attitudes about Thanksgiving…
10. A Default can shape our behavior:
- Because the Thanksgiving menu is pre-set, we rarely change it.
9. We display Confirmation Bias:
- The holiday meal is good because we expect it to be good.
8. Called Choice Architecture, our alternatives determine our decisions :
- Our holiday menu skyrockets our calorie consumption to over 3,000.
Those 3,000 calories are equal to…
7. Our pleasure during the meal can depend on our Diminishing Marginal Utility:
- The first bites are the best bites. After that we get less extra pleasure.
6. After the meal, we bear the burden of Temporal Discounting:
- Thanksgiving dinner gives us considerable short term pleasure. But there is a long term cost.
From here, traditional economic ideas can take over…
5. Future Expectations:
- Some of us demand less during dinner because we look forward to leftovers.
4. Complementary Goods:
- We demand more stuffing and cranberries because they are great with turkey.
- It takes approximately 1.8 hours of work for someone that earns an average U.S. wage of $29.52 (BLS) to pay $53.31 for this year’s Thanksgiving meal for 10.
- At $53.31, dinner for 10 is up from $46.90, a whopping 14 percent increase from 2020.
1. The Invisible Hand:
- With Minnesota #1 at more than 40 million turkeys, because of the market system, we have lots of Thanksgiving birds:
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 and a day of thinking economically.
Our Bottom Line: Happy Holiday!
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.
Today’s top ten is an updated version of past holiday posts.