George Will reminds us that Christmas gift-giving is not a good value

George Will, what a bitter old bag.

by George Will

Another huge value-destroying hurricane is about to slam America, destroying billions of dollars of value. Another Katrina? No, another Christmas.

Take cover, everybody, there’s a bruising of ‘value’ afoot.

This voluntary December calamity is explained in a darkly amusing little book that is about the size of an iPhone. “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays” comes from a distinguished publisher, Princeton University Press, and an eminent author, Joel Waldfogel of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school.

This is going to be depressing one way or another because George Will likes it. Especially when it’s ‘darkly amusing’, it’s guaranteed to be crap.

He says that the crux of Yuletide economics, which common sense suggests and research confirms, is:

Gifts that people buy for other people are usually poorly matched to the recipients’ preferences. What the recipients would willingly pay for gifts is usually less than what the givers paid. The measure of the inefficiency of allocating value by gift-giving is the difference between the yield of satisfaction per dollar spent on gifts and the yield per dollar spent on recipients’ own purchases.

Why does George Will even exist, other than to annoy decent people? NOBODY CARES, it’s Christmas you doucheflood.

By calculating the difference between the consumption of holiday goods (e.g., jewelry, but not gasoline) in December as opposed to November and January, you get a rough estimate of Christmas spending. Waldfogel’s conservative estimate is that in 2007, Americans spent $66 billion on gifts and produced $12 billion less satisfaction than would have been produced if the recipients had spent the $66 billion on themselves.

Yes, of course, gift-giving is an inexact science. How it stinks of high spirits that besot sobriety and accuracy in value-distribution. Lemme guess–this sort of behavior has societal consequences?

At least the Christmas stimulus strengthens the economy, right? Wrong, says Waldfogel. If all spending justified itself, we would pay people to dig holes and then refill them — or build bridges to unpopulated Alaskan islands. Spending is good if the purchaser, or the recipient of a gift, values the commodity more than he does the money it costs. Otherwise, there is a subtraction from society’s store of value.

…jeez, how pathetic is George? At this time of the year, perhaps we all should keep “society’s store of value” in mind. No, you’ll never catch me giving you anything you won’t value as much as I paid for it. If only I knew exactly what you thought of everything little thing in the world.

But, you say, what about sentimental value? Don’t you value the thoughtfulness of dotty Uncle Ralph who gave you the sweater? Actually, Ralph’s sentiment in selecting it was like your sentiment when you selected for him the candle shaped like Gandhi — desperate bewilderment about what he might like.

Were it not for sentimentality about sentiments, which are highly overrated, we would behave rationally, giving cash, thereby avoiding value subtraction. We almost do that with wedding registries.

Well, cold rationality is a real joy. And fulfilling a couple’s wedding demands for flatware is really very fun. Get the idea that self-centered George has given a few clunkers in his holiday history? It wasn’t his fault – he’s too smart to make mistakes. It’s stupid Christmas‘ fault, stupid holiday.

Data from 1919 concerning the retail giants of the day — mail-order companies (e.g., Sears and Montgomery Ward) and “dime stores” (e.g., Woolworth) — actually show that Christmas sales as a share of the economy is about half as large as it once was. This means proportionally less value subtraction. Hallelujah.

Picture George on his phone:

“Hello, is this Harriet? Harriet, this is George Will. Yes, good afternoon. The holidays are upon us again, Harriet, so I thought I’d call you while I was making out my gift list. What sort of value would you put on a toaster?”


“A toaster, like perhaps a chrome one, say a Hamilton Beach. What would you hazard is its worth?”


“Very good, Harriet. If I can find one at that price I shall gift wrap it and send it to you…”