Posts tagged with: blue laws

2amazonOn Monday, Amazon announced that it would immediately start offering Sunday deliveries. This new initiative will not only satisfy consumers who  do not want to wait all weekend for something to arrive, but it will also give the cash strapped U.S. Postal Service revenue as they will be making the Sunday deliveries.

This might be good news for the USPS and impatient consumers, but it effectively makes Sunday another weekday. Cecelia Kang, a reporter for the Washington Post, interviewed Acton Research Fellow Jordan Ballor for the story. He predicted that Amazon’s action will likely be copied by other large corporations:

Competitors such as Wal-Mart, eBay and Google are racing to satisfy consumers virtually around the clock, aiming to deliver products just hours after someone places an online order.

“Amazon’s announcement is another incremental development in the erosion of that restful space — Sunday — and another example of an erosion on the limits of market activity,” said Jordan J. Ballor, a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, an economic think tank.

Read “For the modern consumer, the week never seems to end” in the Washington Post. Also, See Ballor’s commentary about Blue Laws and Black Friday.

A paper recently published at the National Bureau of Economic Research calls into question some conventional economic wisdom about the effects of certain kinds of legislation. In “The Church vs the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?”, Jonathan Gruber and Daniel M. Hungerman find that when so-called “blue laws” are repealed in any given state, “religious attendance falls, and that church donations and spending fall as well.”

But in addition, “repealing blue laws leads to an increase in drinking and drug use, and that this increase is found only among the initially religious individuals who were affected by the blue laws. The effect is economically significant; for example, the gap in heavy drinking between religious and non religious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed.” For more information on the study, check out this article from the CS Monitor, “Maybe ‘blue laws’ weren’t so bad” (HT: Zondervan>To The Point).

Richard Morin wrote an op-ed in the WaPo last week (HT: Religion Clause) about this paper, and wonders “why would the elimination of blue laws suddenly provoke such an outburst of sinning among the religious? After all, there are six other days of the week to shop (or drink) until you drop. And it’s not legal to buy cocaine or marijuana on any day of the week.”

Before I paint the broad outlines of an answer, let me point out the potential significance of Gruber and Hungerman’s conclusions. It has long been assumed that laws prohibiting or restricting the sale of certain controversial items (i.e. alcohol, tobacco, drugs) has a net negative effect. Mark Thornton over at Mises.org published a piece that claims, for example, that “prohibitions have no socially desirable effect.”

Acton’s own Rev. Robert A. Sirico, in an essay on the “sin tax,” wrote that sin taxes, prohibition, and presumably blue laws are each “a different point on the same continuum.” Sirico goes on to cite Paulist priest James Gillis, who said that prohibition of alcohol “was the greatest blow ever given to the temperance movement.”

Gillis writes,

Before prohibition, the people at large were becoming more and more sober. Total abstinence had become the practice, not of a few, but of millions… Under the Volstead Law, drinking became a popular sport. The passage of the law was a psychological blunder, and a moral calamity… The only way to make the country sober is to persuade individual citizens, one by one, to be sober.

It seems, however, according to the NBER paper, that blue laws do have the opposite effect, and in this way can perhaps be distinguished from prohibition. Is there a theological explanation for this? (more…)