Christmas is a time of seasonal cheer, family get-togethers, holiday parties, and-gift giving. Lots and lots--and lots--of gift giving. It's hard to imagine any Christmas without this time-honored custom. But let's stop to consider the gifts we receive--the rooster sweater from Grandma or the singing fish from Uncle Mike. How many of us get gifts we like? How many of us give gifts not knowing what recipients want? Did your cousin really look excited about that jumping alarm clock? Lively and informed,Scroogenomicsillustrates how our consumer spending generates vast amounts of economic waste--to the shocking tune of eighty-five billion dollars each winter. Economist Joel Waldfogel provides solid explanations to show us why it's time to stop the madness and think twice before buying gifts for the holidays.When we buy for ourselves, every dollar we spend produces at least a dollar in satisfaction, because we shop carefully and purchase items that are worth more than they cost. Gift giving is different. We make less-informed choices, max out on credit to buy gifts worth less than the money spent, and leave recipients less than satisfied, creating what Waldfogel calls "deadweight loss."
Waldfogel (The Tyranny of the Market) delivers a badly needed poke in the eye at holiday-time consumer madness, positing that not only is compulsory gift giving stressful and expensive, but it's economically unsound. Purchases are usually a zero-sum game-a $50 sweater is bought only when it is worth $50 or more to the consumer. But most gifts are relatively worthless to the less-than-enthused recipient, thus severing the link between the buying decision and the item's value. Addressing the $66 billion in retail sales during the 2007 Christmas season, the author's bewilderment is evident when he asks-would anyone buy this stuff for himself or herself? does anybody want it?-and answers his own question with a quote suggesting that gift giving may be too firmly entrenched to budge: "There are worlds of money wasted, at this time of year, in getting things that nobody wants, and nobody cares for after they are got." That's Harriet Beecher Stowe back in 1850. This lively, spot-on book may be the one gift that still makes sense to buy come Black Friday. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Princeton University Press
October 05, 2009
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