Why Are So Many People Lighting Off Fireworks?

While fireworks are popular as we inch towards the Fourth of July, this year, the explosions have already been heard almost nightly for weeks in cities from Albuquerque to Providence. In fact, New York City had a 4000% increase in firework complaints in the first two weeks of June compared with just last year. Economist and Senior Lecturer of Markets, Public Policy, and Law Jay Zagorsky explores possible reasons behind the sudden increase in firework usage.

“There are two possible economic reasons behind an increase in fireworks usage: falling prices or increased supply,” writes Zagorsky. “However,” he continues, “neither of these is the culprit behind the increase in fireworks this year.”

Since the majority of fireworks shot off in the US are manufactured in China, Zagorsky looked at the price data for the first four months of 2020 to see how much importers paid for fireworks. He found that prices ended up actually rising slightly from $2.60 per kilogram to $2.63 per kilogram, debunking the falling price argument.

What’s more, that data also showed that the US imported 9 million kilograms of fireworks from China during the first four months of the year—it sure is a staggering number, but it’s actually one-third less than a year earlier.

With relaxed state restrictions that allow fireworks in some form in 49 states (only in Massachusetts are individuals are completely prohibited from owning and using any types of fireworks), it isn’t a legal reason for the increase in fireworks this year, either—instead, Zagorsky posits, the real reason is simple.

With the COVID-pandemic both shutting millions of Americans out of work and shutting down other nighttime entertainment options, it makes sense that folks are turning more to fireworks. They’re bored, and there are much lower opportunity costs for fireworks users. Opportunity costs put a dollar value on what else a person can be doing with their time—before the pandemic, many of our evenings were full of options. Now, not so much.

“There is an old quote that idle hands lead to mischief,” writes Zagorsky. “In this case, idle people lead to large amounts of illegal firework usage.”

However, Zagorsky doesn’t think these levels of fireworks usage will be the new normal. “My belief is that once the millions of unemployed people in the US go back to work, the number of illegal fireworks shot off will rapidly decrease and will once again be limited to the times around New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.”



Access the full article on The Conversation here.


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