University of Pennsylvania professor Joel Waldfogel takes an economist's look at gift giving and pronounces it wasteful. Every time you receive a gift that's not what you want, the item loses value. For example, you wouldn't pay more than $10 for the ugly orange teapot Aunt Bea bought you for $50. What's the solution? Cash, of course, but giving cash is often seen as being in bad taste. How about gift cards? A little bit better, theorizes Waldfogel, but people don't always redeem gift cards, which generates waste as well.This in turn is to perpetrate a sort of 'content' reading of Christmas gift-giving (valuing the $50 orange teapot in terms of intrinsic monetary value) rather than on the form ... but most people understand, if instinctively, that it is the form that counts. You might have only valued the teapot at $10; but the value of the social performance of Aunt Bea in giving you the gift is, though hard to quantify in those terms, much more important. Homo sapiens culture is radically predicated upon gift-giving; it predates the invention of money.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Joel Waldfogel's Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays is based on the premsie that Christmas gift-giving generates economic waste, because it is inefficient. To quote Ralf Dobelli's (approving) summary: