TEXT OF COMMENTARY
I was thinking of dressing up this Halloween as an arm and a leg, ’cause that’s how much Halloween costumes seem to cost these days.
Commentator David Frum has been scouring for an economic explanation.
David Frum: In an old family photo album, there’s a picture of my sister and myself on our way to our first Halloween. She’s carrying a fairy wand — a drum stick wrapped in tin foil. I’ve pulled on a football helmet and rain boots to be a space man. We’re both holding paper loot bags. Total cash expenditure: Not quite zero, since my sister used actually quite a lot of tin foil, but close to it.
Flash forward. Halloween today ranks as the fourth most lavish national holiday event, behind Christmas, the Superbowl, and New Year’s Eve. Almost half of American adults expect to spend money to decorate their homes in some way.
A half century ago, the liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith argued that consumer behavior is largely fomented by manipulative advertising. Big corporations instill in consumers desires that they would never otherwise feel.
You can see the appeal of this theory. It avoids the embarrassing possibility that Americans have decided for themselves to turn their homes into backdrops for horror movies.
But it’s not Big Candy or the Ghoul Industry that drives the Halloween holiday.
Some social critics think we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of half grown-up, an infantilized society of “kidults” who read Harry Potter. That may be so, but I think there’s a simpler explanation for the Halloween boom.
The fastest growth in Halloween spending is occurring among college-age Americans. More than 80 percent them say that they plan to attend a Halloween party. Halloween has evolved into a one-day spring break, conveniently placed almost exactly mid-way between the start of term and Christmas exams.
The humor magazine The Onion published a joke list of the top holiday costumes for college-age women: “Sexy French maid, sexy cat, sexy witch, sexy hobo, sexy ketchup bottle,” and so on. And despite John Kenneth Galbraith, you don’t need advertising to sell that.
Jagow: David Frum is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.