Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 164 million customers will be shopping on Black Friday weekend. For the first time, their estimate includes Cyber Monday, which had previously been treated separately. The 2016 estimates were 137.4 million between Thanksgiving and Sunday, and 122.2 million on Monday. The actual result from 2016 was 154.4 million between Thanksgiving and Sunday. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2017 would mean an actual number of shoppers close to 184.3 million.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be between $678.75 billion and $682 billion, up from $658.3 billion in 2016. This would be an annual increase of 3.6 to 4.0 percent. The estimate for 2016 was $655.8 billion, suggesting that the total sales for 2017 may be around $683 billion. This year, the NRF estimates that retailers will hire between 500,000 and 550,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 575,000 they hired during the 2016 holiday season versus an estimate of 640,000 to 690,000. We may therefore expect that retailers will actually hire about 453,900 seasonal employees. On the surface, this may appear to be a marvelous celebration of free market capitalism. But let us look deeper through the lenses of the broken window fallacy and the idea of malinvestment.

To view holiday shopping as a boost to the economy ignores the fact that people could either be spending that money in other ways or saving it. In other words, such an approach is an example of the broken window fallacy because it focuses only on what is seen and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

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