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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From Scroogenomics to Splurgenomics: A Reflection On Gift Giving

In his book, Scroogenomics, Joel Waldfogel of the University of Pennsylvania makes the case that gift giving, especially the kind most of us do at Christmas, makes no economic sense.

In fact he calls this kind of gifting a form of wealth destruction. For example, if we buy a sweater for ourselves for, say, $50, we do so because we believe it has at least that much value, but if Aunt Minnie buys us a $50 sweater it’s unlikely that it has that same value for us. We might just store in an already full closet and later haul it off to the local thrift store or sell it at a pittance at our next yard sale.

So unless we know someone very, very well, Waldfogel says, we’re better off giving them a gift card, or a gift to charity in their name. Or we might write or create something that can’t be bought at a store, or maybe put together a book of coupons that offer our time or some favors they might enjoy. He makes a valid point.

author Joel Waldfogel
On the other hand, I do know that as a child growing up (in a home in which my parents were poor and our Christmases meager), whatever gifts I was  given, whether bought or homemade, definitely increased in value in their giving. I was breathless with excitement over the kind of simple  gifts my grandchildren could hardly imagine. Yet I’m sure I enjoyed Christmas as least as much as they will, surrounded by all kinds of battery powered gadgets, Fisher Price plastic and reams of torn wrapping paper.

As an alternative, I’ve even proposed that our grandchildren might want to select from their rather ample toy collections something they would like to give one of their young cousins or a needy child as a recycled gift, carefully chosen and given a second life. Or we adults could agree to select a choice book from our libraries or from our collection of dishes or tools to give a friend or family member, something we no longer need but believe could add to someone else’s pleasure, and thus truly add value to the gift. Or we might just offer some generous donations and time at the local homeless shelter. Or write a big Christmas check to MCC or other relief agency. Or, as our clan has decided to do this year, pool some funds to buy some goats or calves for some needy family abroad through Oxfam, World Vision, or Heifer International (The kids love this).

Maybe we can all try to get closer to the kind of "splurgenomics" Ebenezer Scrooge engaged in after his Christmas conversion, as when he gave a generous charitable donation to a fundraiser he had soundly rejected the day before:
from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

"My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands.  "How do you do.  I hope you succeeded yesterday.  It was very kind of you.  A merry Christmas to you, sir!"
"Mr Scrooge?"
"Yes," said Scrooge.  "That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you.  Allow me to ask your pardon.  And will you have the goodness" -- here Scrooge whispered in his ear.
"Lord bless me!" cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away.  "My dear Mr Scrooge, are you serious?"
"If you please," said Scrooge.  "Not a farthing less.  A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you.  Will you do me that favor?"
"My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to such munificence."
"Don't say anything please," retorted Scrooge.  "Come and see me.  Will you come and see me?"
"I will!" cried the old gentleman.  And it was clear he meant to do it.
"Thank you," said Scrooge.  "I am much obliged to you.  I thank you fifty times.  Bless you!"
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