These costs might be worth bearing if they led to even larger gains. But when all outlets open earlier, no one benefits. Few people actually want to shop in the wee hours, and the purchases that do occur then are presumably offset, dollar for dollar, by reduced sales during normal business hours. Even the shoppers who turn out for early openings seem motivated primarily by a fear that others might snap up bargains before they get there. But if all stores opened later, there would be no fewer bargains than before. In short, we have a classic collective action problem, an arms race.
Black Friday (or, more accurately, Black Thursday Night) is only hours away, so it’s too late to do anything about early openings this year. But we can start thinking about what can be done to protect our future Thanksgivings. Many societies employ “blue laws” — laws that mandate closing times, usually on Sundays. But there is a simpler, more flexible, way to approach this problem. Inspired by the 9-9-9 proposal of the Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, I call it the 6-6-6 plan — an across-the-board 6 percent national sales tax (on top of any existing state and local sales taxes) in effect from 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 6 a.m. on Black Friday.
This plan would leave both stores and consumers free to decide for themselves whether middle-of-the-night shopping is worth it.