Erik (sargonepsilon) wrote,
Erik
sargonepsilon

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Analysis, explanation, anecdote, question.

I don't value Christmas presents. The economist in me is upset by the deadweight loss. Person A spends X on a gift for person B, but that gift provide less than X utility to person B. A more concrete example is my grandmother spends $15 to buy me a blanket featuring the logo of my favorite football team. I put the blanket on my bed and use it nightly, so it is by no means useless, but this far from the optimal utility I could generate for 15 dollars. If I had 15 dollars I could buy three days worth of food, or up to 7 drinks at a bar, which is 2 or 3 evenings worth. I value both of those things much higher than a blanket, so in spending the money on a blanket a certain amount of value has been lost.

The sociologist in me understands that Christmas presents are all about signaling. By spending time, energy and resources on something I don't care about, but will benefit you, I have proved that I care about you. This is the same principle behind men buying flowers for women. The sociologist in me also understands that this is perfectly normal behavior, and the evolutionary psychologist in me understands that this is a method of communication that predates language, and exists in many species. Nonetheless the practical male in me resents the fact that I must prove I care on specific days of the year, and in such a limited material fashion.

My mother and sister understand my feelings about Christmas presents, but do not share them. To prove their sympathy to my situation they buy me only things I intend to buy anyway, thus minimizing the dead weight loss*. For the sake of cooperation I try to stockpile such things for Christmas time. I have needed a new mouse for months (Some who have used my old one will argue years), but I didn't get one, so now my Sister can buy me one for Christmas. I gave her exacting instructions about it's design (Simple build, two buttons, plus a scroll wheel in the middle, nothing fancy on the sides, I hit them on accident, and the ergonomic grips are uncomfortable on my hand), but I refrained from picking an exact model number so she can spend an appropriate amount of time and thought deciding which of the designs that fit my parameters I would like best.

My brother does not like Christmas presents either. I assume his reasons are the same as mine, but operate at the unconscious level since he doesn't study economics, sociology, or evolutionary psychology. Another thing we have in common is that we don't buy books. I don't buy books because I rarely reread anything, and books are so easy to borrow for free. Tyler doesn't buy books because he doesn't buy things and he doesn't read much anyway (school work excluded). On a seemingly unrelated note James Lipton recently wrote an autobiography, Inside Inside, detailing, among other things, his sordid career as a pimp in Paris (that was before he got famous). Ty and I watched him speak about it on some late night talk show or other, and it sounded very entertaining to both of us. Tyler asked me if I would buy the book; I told him I don't buy books. He said he would buy me the book for Christmas so he could borrow it after I finished it. I suggested he just buy it for himself, and I would borrow it from him after. He told me he doesn't buy things for himself, and pointed out that I would likely finish it and several other books before he got the chance to start it. I consented.

Regardless of my feelings about the need to signal, I have to do it, or I seem uncaring (and scrooge like, although that doesn't bother me really). To best balance my economist's feelings, and the need to signal I try to give gifts where I can sacrifice time, rather than money. I think this is both a better signal (since I value my time more highly than my money), and a way to avoid the dead weight loss that bugs me. This however becomes more difficult as time goes on, as I am not very artistically inclined. I did mix CD's last year, which turned out well, but I do not want to repeat so soon. The only decent idea I have for this year is to find someway to channel my writing (prose only) talent into a gift, but no easy way to do that presents itself. Any good ideas for this or another do it yourself present?

* Mom does this but she also insists on buying a small "surprise" present. Tic tacs or playing cards, perhaps a DVD. Such things are almost pure deadweight loss, but I try to be a good sport.
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