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The spontaneous non-government order of Halloween

The spontaneous non-government order of Halloween

Parrish Miller
October 28, 2014
October 28, 2014

How much money is spent on Halloween? Just in the U.S., candy sales alone will reach $2.5 billion (that's "billion" with a "B"), according to the National Confectioners Association. Costumes will bring in even more with $350 million in spending dedicated to costumes for pets. When combined with decorations and cards, Halloween spending is anticipated to be $7.4 billion in 2014, according to the National Retail Federation.

More than half of Americans will collectively spend billions of dollars to celebrate a holiday that isn't even considered a federal holiday by the government. How could so many people spend so many dollars and come together to dress up in costumes, attend parties and go trick-or-treating without the government planning these events or directing this spending? Surely such a massive undertaking requires a federal agency to ensure compliance. Why, there's not even a federal "Halloween Czar." At least, not yet.

Blame it on the principle of "spontaneous order." Although the idea dates back millennia, its modern origins can be found in the Scottish Enlightenment among such notables as Adam Smith and David Hume and in the Austrian school of economics popularized by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

Adam Smith famously pointed out that individuals working toward their own ends (profit) would naturally bring about a system that was of the greatest benefit to all. He explained that "by pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." Despite the lack of central planning, mankind comes together and accomplishes something great that no one originally envisioned.

Spontaneous order can be viewed in things both large and small. Take an ice skating rink for example—no stop lights, speed limits or turn signals are present, yet collisions are relatively rare. People observe each other's actions and respond (largely without realizing it) and order exists—spontaneously.

Consider the explosive growth in personal computing. As Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), explains, "No politician, no bureaucrat, no central planner, no academic sat behind a desk before that happened, before Silicon Valley emerged and planned it. It happened because of private entrepreneurs responding to market opportunities." No one dictated that your smartphone would be invented.

So as you celebrate Halloween, don't thank government for the candy that will be handed out, the epic parties that will be thrown or the amazing (and not-so-amazing) costumes that will be donned. Government not only didn't create the modern holiday of Halloween, it couldn't have—no one could have. Something this awesome could only be the result of spontaneous order.

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