November 21, 2005

God regulates commerce in mysterious ways

This morning, Rose remarked that the trouble we had in Boston last Thanksgiving finding an open supermarket that would sell us a pan (we needed an extra) was because of blue laws -- supermarkets aren't allowed to be open on Thanksgiving. This got me thinking about blue laws in general -- what good is a morality-legislating law that says you can't buy alcohol on Sunday when not even everyone who believes in a supreme being thinks that Sunday is the Sabbath?

And so, if we're going to base our commerce on making sure that religious people don't go against the tenets of their faith when making purchases, I think there's a simple solution: everyone should have a "blue card" indicating their religious beliefs, with notations indicating their degree of strictness. For example, Jews would be prevented from buying bacon (unless, obviously, they had indicated when they applied for the card that they did not keep kosher), while Muslims would not be allowed to buy food before sundown during Ramadan -- and, of course, no Starbucks for Mormons. (There's trace amounts of caffeine in decaf, you know!)

Muslims might argue that they were buying food for dinner, not to consume during the day, but how could a store clerk know that? Better to prevent such behavior entirely.

(Vaguely related: Rapture heathens and karma bitches.)

Posted by Francis at 01:18 PM

Here in Connecticut, you cannot buy alcohol on Sunday, which I have found aggravating on many occasions, since that is my big cooking day, and I often (a) cook with wine and (b) fail to realize that I have run out of wine.

Looking into this, however, I have learned that the last few attempts to overturn blue laws were thwarted by the liquor store owners themselves. They want a day off, blissful in the assurance that they aren't losing any business to upstart go-getter competitors.

Those demanding laws that enforce their particular religious viewpoint are indeed bad; I'm not sure these liquor store owners are a hell of a lot better.

Posted by: Eric Berlin at November 21, 2005 01:57 PM

Re: Eric's comment:

Ah, how low we have sunk from the days when our society's emblems of upright, honest citizenry were its liquor store owners.

Posted by: Rick at November 21, 2005 02:31 PM

Illinois's blue laws are, if memory serves, (1) that car dealerships are closed Sundays even though customers would love to be able to shop then, just because some dealers would still want to be closed and they'd lose a crapload of business, and (2) that you can't buy liquor between midnight Saturday and noon Sunday.

Francis, I like your plan that would allow atheists special consumer privileges not available to others.

Posted by: Orange at November 21, 2005 03:14 PM

Thank you. Although I suppose that atheists would be barred from buying things like sacramental wine and communion wafers.

Posted by: Francis at November 21, 2005 04:55 PM

Maybe you've heard of Whole Foods getting into trouble for trying to be open on Thanksgiving:,0,2539167.story?coll=sns-ap-investing-headlines

Posted by: Toonhead! at November 21, 2005 06:21 PM

I prefer Riesling and sugar wafer cookies, anyway.

Posted by: Orange at November 21, 2005 07:21 PM

Toonhead: Rose told me about it, but I hadn't seen the article. I love Shaw's "we only care about the customers" explanation:

Besides disadvantaging competitors, a Whole Foods opening would harm consumers, due to lack of choice in the marketplace for consumers to shop and compare prices for the best deal.

Well...if there weren't *blue laws* then other stores could decide to open on Thanksgiving if they wanted to! And if you need an extra pound of butter or a big aluminum pan at 11:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving, are you really going to freakin' *comparison shop* for them? I guarantee that the price for butter at Whole Foods is cheaper than it is at a convenience store, anyway.

Posted by: Francis at November 21, 2005 08:01 PM

In general (if I understand the history right), the idea of sabbath laws was to prevent wicked owners from forcing employees to work on the sabbath. Well, and it does come from a nice New England tradition of sabbatarianism (taken from the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, I think). Anyway, the point of the law was really to encourage everybody to go to church on Sunday, and to discourage un-sabbath-like activities (such as drinking, attending sports, or enjoying yourself). Nobody wanted to encourage Jews to go to shul (particularly not the observant Jews who expected to have the good seats to themselves) or to encourage Seventh-Day Adventist to do whatever devil-worshipping they got up to, and they could just go and do it in Rhode Island.

When Boston loosened its blue laws in the mid 90s, the people who most complained were the unions, who (rightly) said that wicked employers would compel workers to work on Sunday mornings. Ah, the more things change.

Myself, wondering about the Church of the Mouse and the Disco Ball.


Posted by: Vardibidian at November 21, 2005 08:13 PM

I'm a sabbatarian. I eat only sabbatables.

Posted by: Orange at November 21, 2005 11:47 PM

As a food inspector where blue laws are not so strict, I consider Thanksgiving week a success if I don't have an immediate priority consumer complaint in my area like "Store is keeping shopping cart full of defrosting dripping half-price turkeys near checkout.

Posted by: Elaine at November 26, 2005 02:16 PM
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