the Charles Dickens gift metric

  • If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would rather receive £20 from a waiter friend than £100 from a banker friend, because it means more coming from the poor man. £20 is a larger fraction of the poor man’s income, so it means more than a paltry £100 to the rich man.
  • Someone in my Christmas circle confided that she would rather receive either
    • money, or
    • something personal (like a letter, a drawing, or a small gift that shows that the person knows her well and put thought or time into the gift)

    “If someone gets me shower gel or bath salts, it shows that they don’t know anything about me at all. I would rather just get money, because then at least I can get myself something I want.”

Christmas obligations account for $100 billion of spending in the USA, or roughly ½% of its yearly output. If you are buying the wrong gifts, though, perhaps 20% of that is wasted—i.e., $20 billion of waste in the world’s largest economy.

This has led to the gift card, probably the best business idea ever. (Businesses get cash regardless of whether they deliver a service or product, in advance of delivering the service or product, in return for expensively allaying the culturally-induced guilt of rich people.)

But in both of the gift metrics above—the one from my Christmas circle and the one from 120 years ago—time and care are what’s really wanted in a present. Or an Xbox 360.

PS: Joel Waldfogel suggests a charity gift card: the card recipient gets to act rich, and the cash goes to a high-marginal-value end purpose.

About isomorphismes

Argonaut: someone engaged in a dangerous but potentially rewarding adventure.
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