April 22, 2011 8:31 pm
Politically, it was an easy decision for UK prime minister David Cameron to declare a public holiday on Friday, when Prince William will marry Kate Middleton. In an age of austerity, what is not to like about a little glitz (but not too much) to raise the spirits of the nation, especially if some of the charm rubs off on the government?
Economically, however, Mr Cameron has taken a gamble. On one hand, the royal wedding could boost Britain’s shaky recovery by encouraging tourism and general revelry. The prime minister’s vocal support of street parties on Friday is a sly economic strategy with the bonus that it illustrates his Big Society vision of individuals engaged in their communities.
Demand for drinks, barbecued food, and wedding-themed trinkets (that had better not be imported) must, however, contend with the cut to aggregate supply caused by people taking a day off work. That fall in productivity could well offset any spike in output to meet street party-related demand.
Wedding economics is not only a statesman’s business. A wedding ceremony is the archetype of conspicuous consumption, so inflationary pressures on the cost of nuptials are unyielding and self-perpetuating. In some poor communities, only resolute legislation separates bridal bliss from bankruptcy. In Tajikistan, only one dish may legally be served at wedding banquets, which must not exceed three hours. The chief rabbi of an orthodox Jewish community in New York state has banned diamond engagement rings.
Economics is not everything; Mr Cameron, who wants official measures of the nation’s happiness, is right that money and well-being are not the same. A day off and a street party can do us good even if it shrinks our incomes a little. But this is a government worried about the public debt, which can hardly be serviced in the currency of leisure. So while the prime minister is right to call on people to have fun, could he not have asked the royal betrothed to pick a Saturday?
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