Thanksgiving Day and the Great Coronavirus Disruption

Thanksgiving Day and the Great Coronavirus Disruption
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Thanksgiving Day has always been a special time for my family. It has always been the one day each year when my wife, Dot, our extended family and I – 20 or more of us – would push aside all other activities and distractions and come together at our Georgia country home. We would cook and enjoy the traditional turkey feast and trimmings, and then tell stories, sing, play games – inside and out – and always take a few moments to thank the almighty for our countless blessings. Yes, for us, Thanksgiving is a time to remember what it means to be a family member and, while recognizing our differences, to celebrate the mystical love that holds us together.

As with many other families, ours will have no large Thanksgiving gathering this year, and not even a virtual celebration. Instead, we will avoid the travel and the associated coronavirus risks that it can bring. We will, to use a worn-out phrase, celebrate in place. As an economist, this very unusual year has me thinking about some of the encouraging ways in which our world has picked up its pace of change lately. It also has me thinking about the things that cannot be replaced.

Now, like many of you, we have learned that Zoom can be a happy way for us to link up to each other in these health-threatening times. The Great Coronavirus Disruption of 2020 has done more than introduce us to this product; it has also taught us that we can flick a few computer keys and order for home delivery practically anything we might wish to have on the dinner table. Now more than ever, we can choose to cut out all that chatter and hassle in the kitchen, and have a virtual Thanksgiving dinner delivered ready to be served and enjoyed, even alone.


Yet the powerful digital devices now available to us are no substitute for the warm spontaneity that comes with being there. We all know that whether it be Thanksgiving, wedding receptions, Saturday football games, anniversaries or even birthdays, celebrating in place is a poor substitute for the real thing. The Disruption reminds us that there is something special about being a part of a family and a human community.

For me, when it comes to Thanksgiving, that special something involves just being together, picking up tidbits of news from a teenage niece, helping in the kitchen, setting the table and enjoying unexpected bursts of laughter when someone spills the cranberry sauce while passing it across the table. It even involves clearing the table, and washing and putting away the dishes, all the while talking with seldom-seen nieces and nephews.

In some settings, economists refer to the time and resources we use to connect our hungers and needs to the goods and services that may satisfy us as “transaction costs.” Cleaning up afterward also constitutes this type of cost. In a profession largely focused on efficiency, transaction costs are something to eliminate, if at all possible. 

And in the modern world, we are better than ever and eliminating transaction costs. Smartphone technology, Amazon, Target, DoorDash and Uber do just that. They can make it possible for even midnight cravings for something besides pizza to be satisfied. The same goes for Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings. The meal is just a few keystrokes away.

But in some cases, especially when it comes to family and other loved ones, transaction costs are not costs at all. A large part of Thanksgiving’s joy comes from the activity that makes it happen, and being there when it does.

Happy Thanksgiving! Hang in there. We still have lots to be thankful for. 2021 will bring a happier time.

Bruce Yandle is a distinguished adjunct fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and dean emeritus of the Clemson University College of Business and Behavioral Science.