Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist
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Saturday, March 07, 2009
For real? From the Telegraph:
But they concede that the mood music of the event was at times strained. Mr Brown handed over carefully selected gifts, including a pen holder made from the wood of a warship that helped stamp out the slave trade - a sister ship of the vessel from which timbers were taken to build Mr Obama's Oval Office desk. Mr Obama's gift in return, a collection of Hollywood film DVDs that could have been bought from any high street store, looked like the kind of thing the White House might hand out to the visiting head of a minor African state.
The story also points out that the administration treated our guests like trailer-park trash because the president is tired. Really? That's the best they can come up with?
Back to the gift-giving. The whole flare up reminds me of the dead weight loss of Christmas debate in economics. The idea is that instead of giving gifts, which may or may not be wanted by the recipient, the idea of exchanging checks is much more efficient. Giving money allows the recipient to convert the cash into any gift they wish. Instead recipients are forced to return gifts, spending time to do so, or worse - to re-gift to someone else.
One outcome of the line of reasoning is that if two people were going to give each other gifts worth $20 but the gifts being given were not desired, the two people are better off just handing each other envelopes with $20 bills in them. But then Joe just gave Sally $20 in return for $20, so why not just call the whole thing off?
Of course, the true reason we exchange gifts at Christmas has something to do with a story that is about 2000 years old, not to make ourselves feel better, but that has been lost over time.
Perhaps the idea of exchanging gifts between two long-time allies that have been giving each other gifts for quite some time had some meaning at one time but it seems (at least on our side of the deal) that either the meaning has been lost, in which case the tradition should probably end, or we are intentionally snubbing our long-time ally with the last-minute grab bag from Blockbuster and perhaps we would do better just to give them some money and let them buy what they want.
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