Every year we get to witness the raw economic value and human benefit that comes from those mad, mad, super-low, post-Thanksgiving SALES SALES SALES. Black Friday is now spread over an array of elaborately-named days that seem to extend clear ‘til Christmas.
The benefit isn’t just to the shareholders of the big box stores, whose long lines of shoppers brave the cold to cash in on awesome deals. Employees benefit, and from their jobs can feed and clothe their kids and pay the rent. Many others benefit as well.
The store’s various suppliers who stock the shelves and their employees, who also have families and who also have needs. It’s the vendors who supply the means to keep the store’s everything running, from refrigerators to checkout scanners, to semi trucks and wooden pallets. And, let’s not forget, it’s also the benefit of the shopper, whose great deal is also a great gift that otherwise might be have been financially out of reach. The economic benefit extends to people we know and those we’ll never meet, beyond miles and beyond the imagination.
Then why, we’d have to wonder, do Idaho’s lawmakers continue to defend the Unfair Sales Practices Act. That Gem State Depression-era law makes Black Friday sales — or any kind of below-price retail exchange — illegal in Idaho.
The law, which has changed since legislators passed it in 1939, says, “The practice of selling certain items of merchandise below cost in order to attract patronage is a deceptive form of advertising and an unfair method of competition. Such practice misleads the consumer, works back against the farmer, obstructs commerce and diverts business from dealers who maintain a fair price policy, with the result of unemployment, underpayment of employees, excessive working hours, nonpayment of taxes and an inevitable train of undesirable consequences including economic depression. This act is designed to make illegal such practice and to promote the general welfare of the state of Idaho.” The state statute also says items must not be marked up no less than 6 percent.
For the last several years, Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, has tried to advance legislation to end Idaho’s prohibition on Black Friday sales. But, so far, he hasn’t had a lot of support from his colleagues. Some argue the law really isn’t be enforced anyway so there’s no need to do anything. Others argue that the law stands as a ready weapon the state might want to use some time in the future against companies that sell items so low that a competitor might claim harm. Still others contend the law is actively working in the marketplace to prevent overtly predatory sales tactics by big companies at the expense of smaller ones. Regardless of the above points, it’s easy to argue that the law results in higher prices for everyday items, like gasoline.
Oklahoma repealed its unfair sales law a few years ago, and that state is getting along just fine without it. Idaho, where lawmakers profess to support free market principles, might just want to demonstrate they mean it by doing the same.