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Monday, November 10, 2008

Economics vs. Christmas

If you're like me, you can really only enjoy Christmas in the time immediately surrounding the holiday. I'm filled with a sense of dull rage through most of  the fall and early winter starting when I see that people have Christmas lights up and on while their Jack o' Lantern still sits at the road. I would rather chew glass than listen to Christmas music for two months starting November 1st, but that's the day it starts.

Yep, for people like me, this time of year can be stressful.

Well, there's a solution. Take some cold, hard logic and suck all of the early  joy and magic out of the ever-expanding season with economics! Undercover Economist Tim Hartford wrote a few years ago on the deadweight loss of Christmas.

Here's an exerpt:

But giving isn’t the only example of seasonal waste. While some Christmas cards are sent out of genuine goodwill, many Christmas card exchanges are sub-optimal equilibria. In other words, both parties are only sending cards to reciprocate last year’s card. Both would happily agree to stop, but it is embarrassing to be the first after so many years of mechanical exchange.

Economics: 1, Christmas: 0

Enjoy, and bah, humbug.

h/t, Libby

Posted by Janet Neilson on November 10, 2008 | Permalink


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You're such a Scrooge, Janet.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-11-10 8:54:39 PM

Only until about Dec 20.

Posted by: Janet | 2008-11-10 8:57:37 PM

I look forward to Christmas. I can finally pass on those shity tasting fruitcakes I've had stored since last year.

Posted by: peterj | 2008-11-10 9:04:29 PM

I would ban all gift giving on Christmas if I could. Organized blackmail, according to no less of a Christian than C.S. Lewis. I agree with the man heartily. I also hate the idea that I'm obliged to help the economy by purchasing useless junk that nobody really needs anyway. The economy needs to show me something worth buying first, and most folks get that stuff on their own anyway.

Posted by: Charles Martin Cosgriff | 2008-11-11 9:47:58 AM

Janet, I used to feel the same way. Now I just let it be. Until I get my own planet, there's not much we can do about it.

But there is something not factored in to this article. Economically, warm fuzzy feelings are worth something. If I give a gift because I feel obligated, I still feel better giving it then not giving it. If I didn't then I wouldn't do it. So I value the giving more than the money in my posket. The same holds true with Christmas Cards.

If I choose to stop sending the cards then I value the money in my pocket more than I value avoiding the feelings of guilt by not sending the cards.

Charles, who obliges you to help the economy? The economy is not a person. It has no feelings. It does not reason with people. Nobody directs it.

You can always tell when something is worth buying though, by whether or not you will exchange your money for it. So rather than the economy showing you, it is you showing you.

peterj, don't they taste better after sitting for a year?

Posted by: TM | 2008-11-11 12:08:05 PM

Unlike wine, they don't seem to taste any better. Personal tasts I guess. I appreciate the thought of a gift and have always lied through my teeth when asked how I like them by the senders who I'm sure take pride in their making. Someday I'll probably lose track of who sent them and return one to the original owner.

Posted by: peterj | 2008-11-11 1:56:43 PM

Hey TM,

No one obliges me to help the economy per se, of course, but the pressure is there from family and friends and the broader society. We can only resist it so far or we're the ogres. But so it goes. There is that degree to which they can think what they want and the devil with them.

I should like to say that I'm no against being a good guy and buying nice things for people as you will. That's a good thing. I just resent when society tries to dictate our giving, as it does around Christmas and such. It makes the whole idea shallow and meaningless.

Posted by: Charles Martin Cosgriff | 2008-11-12 9:47:39 AM

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