Hallowe’en economics

You rarely come across a piece of evidence as damning for simple economism as this:

The nation’s Halloween spend has increased by a factor of 10 since 2001 and reached £120 million last year, according to Woolworths. It is anticipating a 30 per cent increase this year.

So, what’s going on here? Your simple economist might suggest Woolworths are tapping a well of previously unsatisfied demand for Hallowe’en merchandise. Alternatively, something has happened in the last 5 years to make Hallowe’en 1000 percent more popular. What’s called a “shock”. I struggle to find either explanation very convincing.

An obvious alternative is that our choices, our preferences for spooky Chinese tat, are somehow shaped by society. Markedly so. Perhaps by the sudden appearance of an aisle-full of the stuff in Tesco. Scrape away the specifics and there’s the buried logic: that the “argument from choice” – more choice means fewer diktats and more freedom, so is A Good Thing – is empty, without some accompanying reasons why and how we’re equipped to use that choice, and explanations of what choices magically appear, and for whom. If all we do is buy what we’re told to buy, why not cut the crap and just buy what we’re told? This fetishization of choice is just more seasonal dark arts.

But then we all knew that already, didn’t we?

  1. Janey said:

    Interestingly, the shock may have happened a generation ago. This could be the first generation of parents who grew up with satellite television, and the concomitant large increase in watching US children’s programmes with the US Halloween culture firmly embedded.

  2. Monjo said:

    The rise of Halloween has been steady in this country. But the growth shown owes a lot to mathematics and that any phenomenon (or new technology) will have a basic curved-growth (with a brief period of exponential growth). if we compared the growth of Halloween sales with say the take-up of the Internet, Broadband or mobile phones the general pattern will be the same – though the shape of the “S” will be different.

    The question is “Why now?”. The obvious explanation is that 2001 marked the beginning of a new era. A new Century, a new Millennium. Perhaps it kicked off in 2001 as a backlash to Islamic terror. Perhaps it was just chance. Trick or treating (is some places they call it Trick and treating) has been around in the UK for a long-time now. I suppose it got going in the 1980s. Perhaps we can blame Thatcher materialism? However, costumes used to be home-made.

    The 1990s saw a massive growth in convenience culture. Shop-bought Halloween costumes are perfect for a generation of women who were not taught sewing at school and can’t make costumes for their children. It is also perfect for working mothers who simply don’t have the time or energy to make costumes. Ironically, making costumes with your children would be an excellent way to spend quality time. Instead, they’ll sit and watch US TV together which will only further fuel the need to dress their children up as witches and warlocks.

    The late 1990s/early 2000s have seen an explosion in Chinese exports. And so the puzzle doesn’t seem so complex.

  3. Macko said:

    Woolworths and the rest of the corporate retail chain mafia that want to make us spend more and more of our money so we get more and more in debt

    they can go and drown…they and their stupid franchises.

  4. Phil E said:

    An odd bump in the curve from sunny south Manchester. Last year we had about six parties of ghoulishly-clad teenagers ringing the bell – must have been 25-30 of them in all – and our own kids came home with a sizeable haul. This year the bell went twice, and one of those was a group of kids who weren’t even wearing black. (They had their faces painted, to be fair.) As for our kids, they said that some houses weren’t answering the door, and several of those that did gave them money. Maybe the British version fo the US Halloween isn’t going to take off after all?

  5. Janey may be on to something – 1982/3 brought Spielberg’s ET, not only one of the most successful and influential children’s films of all time, but also with a prominent Halloween sequence – possibly ingraining the idea that 31st October was somehow special into the minds of a generation of children, many of whom are now of an age to have become parents within the last five years or so.

    A vague theory, at least. Blame Spielberg. Or Lucas – either’s good.

  6. Chris Williams said:

    Here’s another: in the season of autumn religious festivals that dominate the curriculum at ‘inner-city’ primary schools (Harvest Festival, Eid, Diwali), Hallowe’en slots right in. “This week we have been thinking about Hallowe’en” said my boy to me. Perhaps it’s bunged in by teachers with a sense of humour, to help show the rest of the godbothering up.

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