Saturday, December 9, 2006

Deadweight at Christmas

Tyler rehashes the old debate about the deadweight loss of Christmas.

That is, is Christmas a net loss because everyone ends up getting worse presents for others than they would have bought from themselves. If everyone just gave themselves presents at Christmas would we all wind up happier.

Many note that this is precisely the type of reasoning that makes people hate economists but it has special meaning for me. As a kid I hate Christmas presents from anyone but my mother and father and only from them because they gave me the same thing every year, Avalon Hill boardgames.

I later discovered both why I hated Christmas presents and others love them. I am an Aspie, which means that I don't typically experience the guilt (or even self-knowledge) of being socially inappropriate. In particular, as I would tell my extend family, if an item was worth its price to me I would have already spent my allowance on it. If I do not have it, it must not be worth the money and so no present you can give me can ever be more valuable than money.

This was as a 6 year-old so you can see why I became an economist.

The key is, I felt no guilt at buying what I wanted. I felt no social pressure to save my allowance (though I usually saved for months) or spend it on what everyone else was spending it on. I bought soley the things I wanted, because I was too autistic to know that was odd.

Therefore, Christmas presents had no value to me, but they do to others. Its a time when the gifts are supposed to be about you. Its not about what you should buy and it's certainly not about feeling guilty for not saving. The gift of Christmas is not in the item itself, but it being able to engage in materialistic hedonism without being judged by those around you.

Thats why people love Christmas and thats why as an Aspie kid I never really saw the point.


Bill Smith said...

I think that the rise of gift cards is making our entire culture more "aspie."

Sure, gift certificates have been around forever but newer gift cards can fit in your wallet.

With the adoption of simple debit card technology, people are recognizing the deadweight loss of Christmas and--slowly--diminishing its effect.

This is one very small part of the Geekification of the entire culture since the rise of teh internets.

James M. Jensen II said...

Honestly, if we did away with presents altogether it might actually go back to being a sacred religious celebration of Jesus' birth for Christians and the cycle of the year for pagans.