Let me first start off by emphasizing that the name of this blog is The Layman Skeptic. Layman is the key word here, so by no means am I an expert at many things, including economics. However, I'd like to explain how I speculate that a particular religious ideal, if no longer practiced, could help boost our economy.
If you work an office job in the United States, such as administrative assistant, customer support, or reporting, chances are your schedule goes from Monday to Friday every week, starting in the morning, and getting home in the afternoon each day. For many years now, we've seen Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, whether you consider both days at the beginning, at the end, or the week beginning with Sunday and ending with Saturday.
Have you ever pondered why we've chosen these particular days? After all, they are merely names we've assigned to each day in a 7-day cycle. A day is one rotation of the earth. A year is one revolution of the earth around the sun. A week, however has no cosmological significance. There's simply nothing in the sun-earth-moon relationship that happens on a 7-day cycle.
Have you ever wondered why we still go by a 7-day week? If you'll notice, there's also never a complete number of weeks in a year. There's 52.1 weeks in a common year and 52.3 weeks in a leap year. Granted the fact that we bounce our months around between having 30 days and 31 days (and 28 for February, except for leap year when it's 29 days) doesn't seem as efficient to me as simply making all months 30 days, then adding or removing a day on a necessary cycle to account for the date drift (I'm too lazy to calculate my version of the leap year at this time, so don't ask).
The days of the week, although named after gods in Roman and Norse mythology, are cycled based on the Judeo-Christian biblical creation. As the myth goes, God created the universe in 6 days, and rested on the 7th.
The weekly Sabbath is largely a Judeo-Christian practice. It's a day set aside strictly for worship, where, depending on how strictly you follow your doctrine, many otherwise daily activities are prohibited. Such things as cooking, house work, entertainment, leisure, and going to work at all may be on the list of things the almighty doesn't want you to do on his day.
The Jewish tradition is that this special day starts at sundown on Friday and ends when three stars appear on Saturday. I'm not sure how they handle things like overcast and light pollution nowadays. Seventh-Day Christians are similar, but believe this holy day goes from midnight Friday night to midnight Saturday night. First-Day Sabbath Christians believe it goes from midnight Saturday night to midnight Sunday night. Since the First-Day camp seems to have made up the majority in American and European history, guess which day banks are closed on today?
Now think of the last time you might have gotten a check from someone or had an appointment with the doctor. You likely had to run this errand on your lunch break, take time off work, or fight the weekend traffic on Saturday (you may have had until noon or 1pm to get to the bank if you're the lucky person with a check, too). Your doctor isn't going to likely offer you a Saturday appointment, unless he doesn't own a set of golf clubs and doesn't mind working 6-day weeks on salary.
Some businesses, like Chik-Fil-A and liquor stores would make a killing if they were simply open on Sundays. Chik-Fil-A at least closes on the Sabbath by choice so it's their own stupid fault, but in many states and cities in the country, it's actually against the law to sell alcohol on Sunday. Why? Because it's the Sabbath, of course.
Luckily, it's legal everywhere in the U.S. to sell food on Sundays, which many Asian restaurants take advantage of. Unlike The International House of Pancakes, which has the advantage of being a large chain with lots of employees, the simple independent Chinese take-out joint is commonly family-owned and operated, so it would be exhausting working 7 days a week, year round. This is why many of these businesses choose another day to close. Since Tuesday is statistically the slowest day for business, many Chinese restaurants are closed on Tuesday. Ironically, places like Denny's, IHOP, and Bob Evans make a killing on Sundays, especially around noon -- because that's when and where all the people that go to church for their Sabbath go to eat after service.
Financial institutions can actually be open on Sundays if they wanted to. There's no law stopping them, at least as far as I know. They, like IHOP, could easily afford to staff branches and customer service hotlines all 7 days a week. In fact, it seems to me that companies like Chase or Bank of America could probably afford this much easier than IHOP or McDonalds. How many late fees do you think could be avoided if the banks were simply open all the time and getting customers 7 days a week?
Of course, the NYSE closes for the weekend as well, which would make it difficult for banks to report their numbers -- but then why does Wall Street have to shut down for the weekend? Wouldn't traders have more opportunity to make more money all week long? Wouldn't it make more sense to be running at least on Sundays to play the market after the busiest shopping day of the week (Saturday)?
Our government has no business basing the day the post office shuts down on the bible either. It also can't be considered constitutional to prohibit the sale of alcohol on the same basis. I would venture a guess that there's far more drinking on the weekend that on weekdays. Road construction is done at night or on weekends in some places, but it's rarely done anytime other than when everyone else is trying to get to and from work on weekdays.
Think about the bar scene. Those places get slammed on Friday and Saturday nights, and sometimes close on Sunday. Their level of business is extremely dynamic throughout the week. Many bars are so crowded on Saturdays, that patrons have nowhere to sit, and the establishment misses out on a customer for the night. It's off to the gas station (probably a 24/7 one) to pick up a 12 pack or cheap beer and just make it a night in with pizza instead.
What need is there to deem the weekend the week's end, exactly? Would there not be more business transactions if business transactions were easier to make if companies changed their operating hours and days according to when they get the most business? What purpose is there in shutting your doors once a week on a day because some guy thousands of years ago read it off a stone tablet and credited the rule to his mythological friend?
I'm not suggesting we all make Tuesday the new day off because there are many options that would differ according to what kind of business you run. Different companies could decide on different weekends, or stay running all week by managing their own schedules.
We're in the 21st century now, so why are we still doing this Sabbath thing if it's so counterproductive and hurts business?