The Czech government continues to do its utmost to limit the economic freedom of individuals. Nowadays, the attention of lawmakers turns to the restriction on opening hours of malls and supermarkets with the floor area larger than 200 square meters during public holidays (8 days per year including Easter or Christmas). Supporters of this regulation claim to advocate protection of workers, promoting family values and supporting smaller merchants. Of course, any regulation limiting opening hours of free-businesses is a sheer nonsense. Here is why.
1. The regulation offers a solution to the phony problem. When a country like the Czech Republic has had neither sustainable pension system, nor healthcare system, public finances are permanently in deficits, politics is in the hands of oligarchs, corruption is booming, the immigration crisis is a big question mark, the educational system generates thousands graduates with no prospects on the labor market, the economy loses the competitiveness due to extensive bureaucracy… Yes, you’re right, we should definitely focus on shopping in supermarkets during public holidays. This is the problem we should deal before we address any others.
2. The regulation eliminates entrepreneurs’ fair-play conditions. Owners of supermarkets have met all the statutory conditions for running their business, they are significant employers and taxpayers. The regulation limits the freedom to set opening hours and to operate economic activities to some of them (to those with a floor area of over 200 square meters). Supermarkets with the floor area 199 sq. m. are O.K, supermarkets with the area 201 sq. meters are not. Why such a benchmark and not any other? Probably for no legitimate reason whatsoever.
3. The regulation creates barriers for employees. Politicians obviously do not realize that there are people who want to work on public holidays. My experiences during my studies are that among occasional workers, the biggest demand was being for work shifts on public holidays or weekends, because employers pay bonuses these days. For many employees, public holidays are a welcome opportunity to get a higher wage or some other benefits.
4. The regulation restricts freedom of choice. Are you used to plan your free time independently? Forget about it! From now on, politicians will determine what you can and what you cannot do on public holidays. Do you want to buy a new couch, seasonal clothing for your children or just some food for your household on public holidays? Forget about it! You cannot spend your earned and taxed income when and where you want, because the supporters of this regulation think it is for your own good. So just deal with it.
5. The regulation will lead to higher prices. Each regulation creates transaction costs. The restriction of opening hours during public holidays would decrease supermarkets’ revenues. The Czech Confederation of Commerce and Tourism forecasts a daily drop of revenues by CZK 700 million. So it is natural that these entrepreneurs will want to earn forgone revenues elsewhere. The easiest way is to raise prices or to sell reduced quality goods for the same price.
6. The regulation will be circumvented. The Czechs are the world champions in circumvention of legislation, no need to argue with that. It would be naive to think that this regulation will be an exception and market players will blindly follow the rules. Let’s bet that supermarkets will open mobile sale holiday kiosks with floor area 199 sq. meters on the parking, supermarkets will host holiday farmers’ markets, supermarkets will rearrange the structure of their sales areas, etc. The Czech creativity will stultify this regulation, too.
7. The regulation opens Pandora’s box of social engineering. The nature of freedom should not be just a faint memory of November 1989. It is the real thing! If we were to lose our responsibility for our own decisions, to stop thinking about the advantages of being “free to choose”, to hand “our” fate over to politicians and bureaucrats, to blindly assume the prohibitions and regulations of neighboring countries had to be implemented in our country, we would end up in the Orwellian 1984. And that is bad. What would be the next? Mandatory marathon after awakening?
8. The regulation downplays a role of contracts. If an employee signs a contract with an employer, both of them make a commitment. The employee works according to the previously agreed conditions, the employer pays according to the agreed terms. If you have voluntarily signed a contract including a possibility of working on weekends or holidays, you – as an employee – have willingly forfitted your right to stay at home with your family at the same time. It is how the contract works. With all respect to the fact how tough it may be to find a job, the employee is neither a slave nor a hostage tied up in the basement. He/she is free to choose. Therefore, it is spurious to make an agreement and subsequently – through the trade union lobby – unilaterally modify the agreement in favor of the employee.
9. The regulation copies (faulty) experiences from abroad. Let’s not allow ourselved to be fooled. In some foreign countries, restrictions on opening hours operate, but it’s not acknowledged with a 100% appreciation by the society. Ask people in Germany or Austria… Many people are angry that they cannot do shopping on Sundays or public holidays. Czech merchants near German or Austrian borders could tell you the story. Their shops are regularly the target for weekend shoppers from abroad.
10. No regulation makes you a better person. It is naïve to think that any regulation could influence people’s nature and make them better individuals. Unfortunately, politicians are still subject to this chimera. Supporters of the regulation genuinely think that if they close supermarkets with floor area over 200 square meters, people will begin to recognize family values and the world will be a better place to live in. However, the reality is more complex – as it usually is.