Opinion: Scroogenomics

Opinion: I don’t care about your kid

Opinion: I don’t care about your kid

Anthony Russo

Anthony Russo

Anthony Russo is a Graduate Assistant and PhD student in the Department of Political Science. He can be reached at [email protected].

This week I bring you the studies of Joel Waldfogel, an economist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He is also the author of “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.”

From Bloomberg.com: “’The way we celebrate Christmas around the developed world is with an orgy of value destruction that vaporizes $25 billion per year,’ he said in a lecture in London [December 3rd, 2009]. ‘People value the items they receive as gifts 20 percent less per dollar spent than the items they purchase for themselves. These are items that are not well-suited for their tastes.’”

That is, an item is only worth its utility (usefulness) to you. That is why we buy things that give us utility. You wouldn’t buy a case of beer if you hated beer, because it wouldn’t be worth the money you spent on it. So say I received a Cedar Point pass for Christmas, but didn’t really want one because I knew I’d be busy that summer and wouldn’t go as often. I’d travel to Cedar Point so infrequently that I wouldn’t buy a pass for myself. Well, I’d receive less value from it than the money it was purchased for as a gift. Here is where we find the enormous waste from the holiday season: $25 billion as Waldfogel estimates.

Ugly sweater? $30. Value to you? Nothing, because you never wear it. Waldfogel notes that this is why we don’t just pay unemployed folks to dig holes (or bridges to nowhere). Why is that, again? Because it isn’t producing anything of value. It’s just a big waste of money.

So how can we prevent this oh-so-tragic predicament? Thoughtful planning. Purchase gifts that you are absolutely certain that the person will receive utility from.

One of the worst things you could do is follow the old adage and buying a person something they would never buy for themselves. Did it ever occur that there is a reason they haven’t bought it for themselves? It’s because they prefer some other combination of goods instead, or they can’t afford it.

Maybe I’m just crazy, but expecting to receive a gift at Christmas just kind of ruins things. Whether you come out “ahead” or “behind” after the dust settles is irrelevant. I just can’t justify all of the hustle and bustle of people out shopping because despite the aura of Christmas, people act like selfish idiots in the name of waste and value destruction.

One last related gripe: Christmas forces us to listen to “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney. Perhaps one of the worst Christmas songs ever. One of my friends is no longer with us after going insane from hearing it every day at a Giant Eagle he used to be employed at. Rest in peace, Craig. 

That being said, I love the lights, and I love “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” I also enjoy college football bowl season. Oh, and Bruce Springsteen singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” And getting three weeks off of school to celebrate anything from Christmas to the winter solstice isn’t too bad either.