The Ethics of Halloween

The Ethics of Halloween
Profile photo of Caleb McMillan


Every Halloween people are engaging in free-market anarchism whether they like it or not. To the economist, it’s clear that the child values receiving candy, even if it means dressing up in a funny or scary costume and going door-to-door, sometimes for hours, saying “trick or treat”. It’s clear that for the adults, joining in for the festive evening is valued more-so than the monetary value of the candy, or else they wouldn’t be giving it away. And some don’t. Some people, adults and children alike, shy away from Halloween night neither tricking nor treating nor allowing their homes to be used as candy repositories. Those partaking in the activity simply go about their business, ignoring the houses with the lights off. Halloween isn’t like most other market activities where exchanges can be marked in monetary value. Yet an exchange is taking place, and no aggression is required for participation or non-participation.

To the free-market anarchist, Halloween is a perfect example of a non-coercive display of voluntary goodwill. Critics of anarchism typically showcase the Hobbesian idea that without a coercive monopoly, people would rob, rape and kill one another. Yet, what is Halloween if not free-market anarchism? There is no central bureaucracy dictating what kids should dress up as, where they should go or at what time and for how long. Likewise, there are no bureaucrats telling adults what types of candy they should offer (“the Davidson’s are giving away Kit-Kats, so the Gibbons’ should offer M&Ms”). Every Halloween any person giving away candy is an entrepreneur; the individual must decide how much candy to stock up on and how much to give away to each child. These decisions may be influenced by past experiences and future uncertainties. A neighbourhood with fewer children may warrant fewer candies, or a larger supply of individual candy units to each child. It can even be explained by marginal utility: If the supply of candy at the Davidson’s house is fixed at x, then the marginal utility of each candy unit will rise as more kids arrive and the supply dwindles. Likewise, if fewer children are visiting, the utility of each candy unit will fall, allowing the Davidson’s to give two or more units of candy away to just one child. This, of course, assumes the Davidson’s don’t want the candy for themselves. Fewer children and a large stock of candy may rest higher on their value scales than vanquishing their supply of Halloween candy by the end of night.

Halloween mirrors the principles inherent in free-market anarchism through its spontaneity. There is no fixed time when to start or stop, but clearly there are limits to when one can or can’t trick or treat. There are no candy cops, testing candy or pre-approving adults who are giving away candy. There are no licences or regulations involved with Halloween. And yet, despite some fear-mongering, the candy given away by strangers to be consumed by children is poison-free.

A dedicated Hobbesian will denounce a stateless society as unrealistic and at odds with human nature. Yet what is more unrealistic than children dressing up in costumes, visiting stranger’s doorsteps, getting free candy, and then consuming that candy without it being laced with poison? Not to mention that the ritual happens every year, without any central authority forcing it on people, without any detailed plan on who will supply candy, what types of candy, how much per household, how many kids per street at a certain time, etc, etc.

It’s clear to me that Halloween is nothing short than free-market anarchism at its best. Here is a spontaneous order of people partaking in a festive holiday without any expectation of monetary gain. Not that wealth is something to be shunned, I’m merely just pointing out that money doesn’t always buy happiness. With that said, I ask again: what is Halloween if not free-market anarchism at its best?

  • newsmint

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  • roselinesweet

    Hi , wonderful article. Really impressive. I learned a lot from you.
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  • Roger

    Terrific insight. Halloween is an example of free market anarchism that everyone can relate to.

  • Ross

    What are you talking about man? They say "trick or treat," as in "if you don't give me a treat my trick will be egging your house"… sounds more like our current system to me, as in "pay your taxes or the trick is we'll lock you up." Haha, just kidding.

    Seriously though, you want to talk about a controlled Halloween economy. When I was a kid I used to live in a small town in Alberta, right next to a Blackfoot reserve. The town banned trick or treating, forcing the town's small population of kids to celebrate Halloween by bobbing for apples at the local public school. Consequently I was denied the experience of trick or treating until I was in the third grade. I never knew why they banned Halloween (it was like that already when my family moved to the town) but the rumour I always heard was that back when they still had Halloween, the native kids used to come out an hour earlier, often sans costume, and get all the good candy, so the whites, unable to deal with fair competition opted to ban Halloween all round. Typical statists. Surprisingly they didn't try a variation of their usual methods: Giving the natives a fixed amount of government issued candy every month laced with sterilants. Actually, come to think of it, the candy they gave us at the public school Halloween party always tasted a little funny.

Profile photo of Caleb McMillan

Caleb McMillan is a writer that lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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