It seems that, every year, the public outcry against Valentine’s Day threatens to overwhelm the holiday itself. Browsing through the opinion sections of online publications, it is impossible to escape the feeling that a war is unfolding against the holiday. According to recent trends, the percentage of the population celebrating Valentine’s Day has been declining in recent years, with only 54 per cent of Canadians observing the holiday in 2018. This trend should be deeply concerning as Valentine’s Day is a boost to economic growth.
Valentine’s Day can, admittedly, be a source of significant stress. Expectations that the day be spent in the company of a romantic partner can be equally suffocating for those with a valentine as for those without. More than anything else, however, consumers bemoan the significant financial stress that holidays can impose; the average Canadian spends $164 on Valentine’s Day per year.
However, it is for this very reason that the benefits of commercialized holidays like Valentine’s Day, when viewed from an economic point of view, are important for encouraging consumer spending. According to the United States National Retail Federation, Valentine’s Day spending contributed $19.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018. Valentine’s Day encourages consumer spending and provides an important portion of the baseline of the retail sector. A population that has become disillusioned with Valentine’s Day will be less willing to spend money on the holiday, with potentially-grave economic consequences.
Saving an entire holiday is not an easy task, and economists will have to employ unconventional methods. We must use our platforms as intellectuals to convince the consumers of the importance of Valentine’s Day by appealing to emotion. Where politicians, journalists, authors, poets, philosophers, and teachers have let us down, we must not fail. We have to make people believe in love again.
But we cannot stop there. The compulsion to spend money on commercial holidays should be viewed as an unparalleled opportunity to induce economic growth. Until now, the commercial world’s primary concern with respect to holidays has been to boost consumer spending on existing holidays. However, once we’ve saved Valentine’s Day, we should shift our focus to the invention of new ones. As consumers, romantic partners, and family members, we ask ourselves: “Why do we have a holiday during which we celebrate our loved ones through seemingly-arbitrary acts of consumption?” But as economists, we should ask: “Why do we have so few?” Why not Cousins’ Day, a statutory-holiday to celebrate distant relatives over a box of chocolates?
There is only one way to address this chronic under provision of empty, commercialized holidays: Governmental intervention. The private sector is unlikely to be of much use to us, since holidays are, for the most part, a public good, and their invention is unlikely to lead to enough direct profit for firms to research and develop them. As economists, then, we must encourage their provision through various government policies.
These policies need not see use only in times of prosperity. If packaged properly, the development of new, consumption-driven holidays could serve as an effective fiscal stimulus in times of economic stagnation. Indeed, one wonders if the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis could have been at least partially alleviated had governments worldwide imposed hosts of state-mandated observances.
As for Valentine’s Day, perhaps we must reach some compromise to save spending. Perhaps, the focus on romantic love has proved excessive, in which case, alternatives like Galentine’s and Palentine’s day show potential. Love, as a phenomenon, may have other economic implications and should be the subject of further research.