Shopping season


in Daily updates, Economics, Rants

Stepping into any shop these days is a simultaneous reminder of many things: the insipidness of holiday music, our society’s unfettered embrace of mass consumerism, and the deadweight losses associated with gift-giving (as discussed previously). In many cases, gifts cost more to the giver than they are worth to the receiver. Even in cases where that isn’t true, the products received are often unnecessary. Arguably, the expectation of gift giving perpetuates harmful expectations about the nature of friendship, romance, and family.

Anyone feeling inclined to give me a gift is encouraged to make a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières or Amnesty International. In my own life, I focus primarily on efforts to improve the world through incremental regulatory change. It is also good to support the people doing good work actively and immediately, addressing suffering and injustice at the point where they exist.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Horn December 19, 2007 at 6:30 pm

I find it very telling that we’ve managed to translate a solemn religious event into financial self-flagellation.

We’re still repenting, but to a different god.

*cue booming echo on mic*

The godd of Capittallisssmmm….

Good idea on the donation to a cause.

Litty December 19, 2007 at 8:08 pm

Our generation’s counter-culture is so pathetic:

50% whining
50% scolding

Noise, noise, noise.

Litty December 19, 2007 at 8:09 pm

Tom Lehrer (of whom you are a fan) was cleverer:

Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and dont say when.
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

On christmas day you cant get sore,
Your fellow man you must adore,
Theres time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four.

Relations, sparing no expensell
Send some useless old utensil,
Or a matching pen and pencil.
Just the thing I need! how nice!
It doesnt matter how sincere it
Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit,
Sentiment will not endear it,
Whats important is the price.

Hark the herald tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

So let the raucous sleigh bells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend kris kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Dont stand underneath when they fly by.

Litty December 19, 2007 at 8:11 pm
Tristan December 20, 2007 at 2:01 am

I try to improve the lives of others by baking for them.

Jessica December 20, 2007 at 2:50 am

Jeeze, are you going to get laid soon? You’re getting more whiny and tedious by the day.

Emily Horn December 20, 2007 at 3:29 am


When someone addresses issues that concern them, and provides a viable and admirable solution, I do not consider them whining.

From Medicines Sans Frontieres:

Increased fighting inside Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu has led to another exodus of the local population, adding to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people who have already fled the conflict area since January 2007. West of Mogadishu, on the road to Afgooye, where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been providing emergency medical and nutritional care since April 2007, the number of IDPs has nearly doubled in just a few weeks, reaching an estimated 200,000 people. Most live by the roadside under makeshift shelters and are fully dependent on external assistance.

Needs for water, food, shelter and medical care are rapidly increasing. However, increasing humanitarian assistance is extremely difficult in this conflict. Despite the mobilization of international aid over the past weeks, it is still largely inadequate. Living conditions in the estimated 100 improvised camps along the Mogadishu-Afgooye axis are significantly below commonly accepted standards for emergency humanitarian assistance, and the risk of epidemic is high.

The number of internally displaced people is increasing every day. Without a significant increase in neutral and independent assistance, this emergency situation could deteriorate even further.

I do not think that these people would consider international aide as a “whiny and tedious” approach to Christmas.

Emily Horn December 20, 2007 at 3:31 am
Milan December 20, 2007 at 8:57 am

You’re getting more whiny and tedious by the day.

I try to maintain a level of variety within the blog: in both tone and content.

That said, complaining about Christmas shopping is a long and proud holiday tradition. Perhaps one of the most widely celebrated and enduring ones remaining.

Milan December 20, 2007 at 9:19 am

Also, the major thing making me ‘whiny’ is sharply reduced mobility.

Times to travel anywhere by walking or bus have basically doubled, as has the level of discomfort in both. Nobody enjoys being cooped up and feeling seriously limited.

. December 20, 2007 at 10:44 am
. December 20, 2007 at 11:17 am

Need a Gift? Give the Best

The Best American Science Writing 2007, that is. Seriously, this book is good. First off, many of the articles center around medical conditions and who isn’t interested if they or someone they love might one day face prosopagnosia (aka face blindness), depression, Alzheimer’s, a Cesarean, or a dissecting aortic aneurysm? Stories like this explore the most fascinating interface: that between humans and life-altering afflictions. My friend who is a nurse borrowed the book and loved it, but it’s not only about medicine…

. December 20, 2007 at 1:05 pm

Where should you give your money to charity?

By Tyler Cowen on Economics

This site offers many interesting tips. Here are their recommendations for how to save lives. Their first pick, Population Services International, distributes condom and insecticide-soaked bednets. Here is a New York Times article about their operation.

The pointer is from Michael Vassar, a regular MR commentator.

. December 20, 2007 at 1:06 pm

2 Young Hedge-Fund Veterans Stir Up the World of Philanthropy

As hedge-fund analysts, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld made six-figure incomes deciding which companies to invest in. Now they are doing the same thing with charities, for a lot less pay.

Mr. Karnofsky and Mr. Hassenfeld, both 26, are the founders and sole employees of GiveWell, which studies charities in particular fields and ranks them on their effectiveness. GiveWell is supported by a charity they created, the Clear Fund, which makes grants to charities they recommend in their research.

Yuannie December 20, 2007 at 4:13 pm

Whiny and tedious? What’s so whiny and tedious about spotting the existing problems in this very imperfect world and wishing to do something about it? I think supporting charity organizations or some other noble cause is a great way to celebrate this Christmas season. Though I believe any charity work shouldn’t stem from the impulse of the moment, but requires continuous dedication and ongoing sponsorship. Monthly donations are great. $10 a month amounts to $120 a year, a fairly large sum; but that’s only less than 35 cents a day, which I believe almost anyone can afford without feeling much financial pressure.
However, I think gift-giving among friends and family are quite important too. It’s not about whether the recipient actually really wants the gift or not. That doesn’t matter. And it also doesn’t matter how much the gift costs. What matters is that you let your loved ones know that you remember them and do care. A card or message bearing well wishes is universally appreciated, I’m sure. Getting them a gift which you expect them to enjoy requires a certain level of effort and I think that’s extra sweet. Plus, there is always the possibility that somebody gets you something you really really like. Don’t you think that’s just fantastic? But you are somewhat right about gift-giving nowadays. This mass consumerism is sucking people into a deep abyss where they forget the true meaning of simple pleasant things such as sharing a good time together with family and friends, just saying “hi and how’re you”, or sending a simple cute post-it message. Instead, people expect more things with little meaning and I think that’s truly unfortunate. :(
I am not a big fan of your negative views about Ottawa. Days ago, you said the city was a wasteland not suitable for human habitation; now, your limited mobility… LOL. I understand your troubles, really, but there are good things here too! Well, I have to admit that Ottawa isn’t as interesting as cities in Europe and we also don’t always have beautiful weather like Vancouver does… but here, we have the Rideau Canal, the National Arts Center, Winterlude coming up in February, Tulip Festival in May, … and many other nice places and fun activities! It does take a bit of time to get used to the cold weather here, but a successful man is an adaptive man who makes the best of and smiles at every situation. You should smile. :)
Finally, I have to say that the weather here in Ottawa is especially cold and dreadful this year, compared to the past four years and a half I’ve been here… You are really lucky to experience such an amazingly cold winter here, you know. :)

Milan December 20, 2007 at 4:36 pm


I am not a big fan of your negative views about Ottawa.

I will admit it: Ottawa is the worst place I have ever lived.

That said, the other places I have lived are Vancouver, Oxford, and Montreal (briefly). As such, I have a pretty high standard of comparison.

You are right, however, to say that adapting and making the best of things is the only real course of action open to me. It is certainly more productive than complaining.

Neal December 20, 2007 at 8:21 pm

I will admit it: Ottawa is the worst place I have ever lived.

Yes, but you never lived in Beijing.

And I’ve never lived in Mogadishu.

For what it’s worth, Lauren doesn’t particularly like living in Whistler, whereas I love it here. Not everyone wants the same things in a place to live.

But your basic point in the original entry I agree with. Christmas gift giving is a sanctified spectacle of waste.

Of course, as the manager of a retail store in Whistler, I have to remind you that it is your solemn duty to give until it hurts every Christmas season. If you aren’t struggling to make minimum payments, you clearly haven’t accrued enough consumer debt.

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