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Should we do away with gift giving?

Admit it, you'd rather buy for yourself than lash out on a gift gamble for others? Wouldn't you?

Published on December 21st 2009.

Should we do away with gift giving?
Yes: - 52%
No: - 48%

THEY say it is better to give than to receive. That's maybe true, but how much better would life be if you cut other people out of the equation altogether? Yes, that's right. Imagine if you made yourself the sole recipient of gifts bought by.... you.

Think of how happy you would be.

Sound selfish? Hang on. Christmas may be a time of seasonal cheer, parties, present buying and therefore a massive bonanza for the retail sector, but how many of us actually get gifts we like?

And how many of us give presents not having a clue what recipients want? Or approach the office “secret Santa” with a heavy heart knowing it's all money down the drain?

American economist Joel Waldfogel's new book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays, got us thinking about this. He says it's time to stop the madness and think twice before we start on our Christmas shopping extravaganza.

Our consumer spending generates vast amounts of economic waste, he says — over £50 billion, globally, each winter.

When we buy for ourselves, every pound we spend produces at least a pound in satisfaction, we shop carefully and purchase items that are worth more than they cost.

Gift giving is different. We make less-informed choices, go to the hilt on credit to buy gifts worth less, in terms of happiness, than the money spent. It leaves recipients less than satisfied, creating what Waldfogel calls "deadweight loss".

And it's a self-perpetuating problem. When we get some revolting jumper, says Prof W, our response is not “why did you get me this crap?” but a smile and a thank you. As a result, bad gift givers don’t get the feedback that would cause them to improve their performance.

However, there is a ray of hope, glimmering in the sky: Not all gifts do destroy value.

Waldfogel estimates that around one-third of them actually increase value, with gifts from “significant others” being, on average, likely to do so; it is gifts from aunts and grand-parents that are most wasteful. This happens because partners know our tastes and sometimes have better knowledge than we do of the products out there, so they might buy us a book or CD that we come to love.

But is the main thrust of his theory just clinical bah humbug? After all, there is much more depth to gift giving than economic waste, isn't there?

Gifts aren’t just physical products, but ways of cementing social ties - of saying “I’m thinking of you”. For this reason, exchanges of gifts are a widespread feature of all societies.

Gifts up the generations - from children to parents and grandparents - could add enormous value, in large part because of their function as love tokens.

And what about the memories? We quickly forget bad gifts but remember good ones forever.

So, would you feel happier this year going out and buying that £300 dress from WAG haunt Cricket, a nice new shiny iPod for yourself, or a 20-year-old single malt - or all of them - than trawling around the shops wondering what to buy your distant relatives, as payback for last year when they turned up with a foot spa/chocolate fountain that will never be taken out of its box?

Indeed perhaps you should just perplex Auntie Peggy and instead of that Woods of Windsor gift set, use the tenner to buy her a herd of donkeys for a school in Mali.

Go ahead, tell us what you think - and away you go and vote on the Homepage!

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

ADDecember 21st 2009.

All the text seems to apear twice?

DescartesDecember 21st 2009.

I like giving friends and family presents; but I'm sick and tired of the mindless commercial nature of Christmas these days. I won't go on, but I could.

THE BRITISH TAXPAYERDecember 21st 2009.

GIFT GIVING EH? The biggest gift giver of them all is a chap called Gordon Brown , since being PM he has squandered the nations wealth, well we all know that, but whats most of the Manchester and the British public dont know is his obsession with giving our money away! At the Copenhagen summit he was first in line to offer 1.5 billion in taxpayers money to the 3rd world to "lessen the harms on climate change ", and as well as a hugh subsidy to that fat overweight pig of an organisation the Eu, hes given money , uk taxpayers money from countries as diverse as nuclear armed Pakistan to Zimbabwe and 30 million recently to Liberia for it schools!, it seems nothing can stop the fat scot from doing his santa claus impression with uk taxpayers money , so yes i am against gift giving , 860 billion in debt , yes i am , you are elected to govern , not give our hard earned money away!

RobDecember 21st 2009.

yeah and didnt he sell all our gold off at an eigth of its value?

sallDecember 21st 2009.

i think we should give at least half our wealth to the 3rd world , in fact there should be a seperate tax to help other poorer nations !

AnonymousDecember 21st 2009.

happy birthday Jesus

EddyDecember 21st 2009.

Certainly gave me food for thought.Been giving a lot of practical gifts this year, luxury foods and such like.Gift giving and receiving certainly causes a lot of headaches, especially when you consider how much waste can result. Everything is way over the top imo

JenDecember 21st 2009.

I like giving pressies, and if you only give to those who mean most to you, you should be well aware of those things that would be most welcomed and appreciated. I both gave and received some great gifts this year, and love that excitement of Christmas morning from childhood, that still remains as an adult, with the parcels under the tree.

scoteeeDecember 21st 2009.

Gifts are for close family and kids in my view.What I can't stand is the secret santa thing we are all bludgeoned in to providing for at work and birthday gifts that we all have to give a fiver for each time someone has one.Let's face it, by the time your own birthday comes around you end with some crap you didn't really want in the first place and having foked out god only knows how many fivers ,I am inclined to say i would rather decline.Now shouldn't this bleeding vote be removed it's the New Year !Bah humbug!

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