What do Easter trading laws and bus timetables have in common?

Today is Good Friday, I have just moved house, and have no food – so I’m trying to work out how to source some.  As a result, you may think I’d be supportive of ACT saying that the Easter trading laws are archaic and need to be overhauled.  But even in my hungry stupor, I realise that there is a potential defence of Easter trading laws – the co-ordination of bus routes.

Now that might seem entirely random, but hear me out.  Making firms close on Good Friday is a way to ensure that no-one is working, and that everyone is on holiday at the same time.  As a result, having the day off today isn’t just having the day off – it is having the day off while everyone else is having the day off.  It is an enforced holiday for all.  This may be a good thing, if there is a “co-ordination failure” in terms of when people take time off.

How does this work?  Say that you value having the day off more when all your friends, family, and arbitrary other people are also having the day off than having the day off with everyone else still busily working – or at least you like that to occur a few times a year.  However, it is costly and difficult to organise a situation where that happens with people.  If individuals take days off on the basis of specific personal plans, or at random, then we will end up in a situation where people take holidays at different times – and as a result, we end up in a pareto inferior equilibrium.  But if the government, or some overarching institution (the Church) organises a day we can all have off together, then we can do that and all be a bit happier for it.

How is this like bus timetables?  Well, the co-ordination of bus routes is another type of co-ordination game – if you have to catch two buses, you would like the times to line up.  If the first bus is too early, your trip takes longer.  If your first bus is too late, you can’t take trip!  As a result, having bus routes planned help out.

Anyway, I’m done with this.  I’m going to go find a service station so I can buy something to eat!  Happy Easter and all that!

6 replies
  1. Eric Crampton
    Eric Crampton says:

    You’ve got it backwards, IMHO. There’s a coordination failure caused by everyone taking their holidays at the same time and bumping into each other in the popular spots. We all get 5 weeks leave. If you can’t figure out a week that’s off at the same time as your friends, the fault’s likely yours: and especially where everybody basically shuts down from Christmas to New Year’s.

    Spread the holidays out over the year, you get fewer congestion issues on the roads to the holiday spots, fewer peak-load issues in popular places… all kinds of win.

    And it isn’t like people can’t voluntarily coordinate this stuff when they deliberately want congestion: just set a rock music festival someplace and watch everybody take a couple days off work.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I agree with the spacing, that is one of the arguments against strict weekends. But, as I like to say, this is a potential argument for why days like Christmas Day are how they are.

      I’m not particularly happy about it, given I went for a run before I remembered I couldn’t get food, but I thought I’d make the case for fun!

  2. Mark Hubbard
    Mark Hubbard says:

    This post, from an economist, is a text book example of why command economies don’t work. An economist running his household like Venezuela, not even able to coordinate food for a single day.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      It is a “potential” argument for – it is possible to make an argument for anything, but then we have to ask if the assumptions are fair. In this case the assumptions might be a bit strong 😉

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