December 21, 2008 6 Comments
With every year I get more and more frustrated by gift-giving. I barely have the time or wherewithal to shop for myself, let alone to fret over what crappy useless item to waste money on and then give to, like, my brother’s wife. It goes without saying that if there’s something she actually wants, she can freaking buy it herself, and most likely, already has. At best I’m weighing her down with another physical object she has to store and then lug around if/when she moves – or at least go through the trouble of throwing away. And at worst there is always the possibility of committing some kind of unintentional subtle insult by the gift (e.g. one always has to think extra carefully to make sure there’s no possibility of the recipient somehow twisting the intent into “so you’re saying you think I’m fat/ugly?”).
Don’t get me wrong. Of course the whole gift thing is nice and cute and fun FOR CHILDREN but are we ever going to give it a freaking rest with the grown-ups?
Seems to me we’re all stuck in a giant Prisoner’s Dilemma. Everyone would benefit from a nationwide policy of ‘no gifts after age 16′ or better yet 14 or 12. Everyone. We are talking massive dead-weight loss, hundreds of millions of dollars of capital wasted on stuff people wouldn’t actually buy for themselves – and thus, capital which is being misallocated every bit as much as when unneeded housing developments are built in the middle of Arizona during a housing bubble.
But no one can actually take the first step and rat out the whole grownup gift-giving thing as a pointless kabuki scam. No one can say “I don’t like giving gifts and I don’t particularly care about receiving gifts, anything I’d have realistically wanted I’d have already bought”, for fear of being called cheap (which I am not – it’s not the money that bothers me at all – in fact I’d pay twice as much if it would cut back on the time and emotional hassle). Someone who talks this way is a “Scrooge”, or a party-pooper who’s ruining Christmas. That great and solemn religious holiday where we buy objects for people that they probably didn’t want, have to pretend to like and be pleased by, and then have to carry home.
Even worse is that the media egg things on by portraying our whole economy as driven by Christmas gift-buying. Every single year, if people don’t waste enough money buying Christmas gifts, the media calls this ‘anemic’ and a sign of down-times. In years where people actually do spend enough money to satisfy the media tut-tutters (though I can’t actually recall such a year), this is portrayed as a good thing and an optimistic sign of hope for the future.
All of which is bass-ackwards. I hope soon-to-be President Obama uses his honeymoon period and near-universal acclaim to issue a new, bold, progressive directive: Christmas (and birthday, while we’re on the subject) gifts to people over age 16 is verboten, punishable by progressive green re-education camp.
Or, at least, let’s set up an opt-out system: don’t buy me gifts, and I won’t buy you gifts. That would be win-win, after all.