Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Joel Waldfogel's "Scroogenomics"

Joel Waldfogel is Chair and Ehrenkranz Family Professor of Business and Public Policy at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays, and reported the following:
Scroogenomics is a critique of the wasteful way we – earthlings, not just Americans – celebrate Christmas, with an orgy of value destruction. Normally – outside December – we only buy things that we expect to value above the price. Gift giving is different. If I spend $50 on someone else, I operate at a significant disadvantage. I don’t know what he or she really wants or already has, so I may buy something worth nothing to the recipient. Surveys over the years show that we value gifts 20 percent less, per dollar spent, than items we buy for ourselves. Our $65 billion in annual US holiday gift giving thus results in $13 billion in missing satisfaction, relative to what that spending could normally have produced. Worldwide the waste is twice as large.

Page 99 is the opening of a chapter entitled, “Christmas and Commercialism: Are Santa and Jesus on the Same Team? And If So, Who’s Team Captain?” that juxtaposes the Scroogenomics critique of Christmas commercialism with two existing critiques surrounding the relative roles of the spiritual and commercial elements of Christmas:
A Seattle resident named Art Conrad, feeling that “Santa has been co-opted by our corporations as a symbol of consumerism,” and that “[e]very year Christmas comes earlier and earlier,” got fed up and erected Santa-on-the-cross in his yard to protest commercialization during the run-up to Christmas 2007. Art Conrad is not alone in his dismay at Christmas; Yuletide dissidents tend to display their concern over the excessive commercialism at Christmas in one of two ways. In one corner we have Art Conrad, the Pope, environmentalists, and various Protestants condemning massive consumption at Christmas that, variously, distracts people from the true meaning of the holiday and destroys the planet. In the opposing corner, we have the Religious Right, annoyed that retailers have banished Jesus from the mall.
Not just a criticism, the book includes suggestions for improved giving practices. First, because we choose well for people we see often, continue giving gifts to people you know well, especially to children. Second, when we have to give but don’t know what to get, gift cards are an appealing option, because they give the recipient control. Gift cards would be even better if their (substantial) unspent balances went straight to charity after a few years. Finally, charity gift cards are a promising alternative for discharging gift giving obligations among adults: they allow the recipient to enjoy the luxury of charitable giving, while moving resources to good causes rather than unwanted stuff.
Read an excerpt from Scroogenomics, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Joel Waldfogel's personal website and his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue