At the end of December the Netherlands has its annual discussion of private fireworks use. Contrary to many other countries, the Netherlands allows households to light their own fireworks. It is causing both delight and problems. Some perceive fireworks in general as wasteful, as 70 million euro literally went up in the air at the end of last year. How to view the perceived wastefulness of this tradition?

People work to consume all kinds goods and services. The more attractive consumption is, by being cheap or exactly what you want for example, the more people are inclined to offer their labor on the labor market. More labor means the economy as a whole can provide more services and goods, to the benefit of everyone. As consumption is taxed (VAT/GST) the sold fireworks also contribute to the national budget. Moreover, there is no principle in economics that considers “wastefulness” in itself. When people buy something, it is useful to them. Economics does not morally judge consumption.

For policymakers the key is to weigh costs and benefits of the (private) use of fireworks at year’s end. “Wastefulness” is not one of those costs, and should not be considered as such. Important costs are injuries and damaged property. Benefit is the joy of the fireworks, and its contribution to a (slightly) bigger economy which can benefit everyone.