What to Get an Economist for Christmas?

Christmas and economists go together like — well, like drinking and walking. Joel Waldfogel, the economist who is famous for highlighting the deadweight loss of gift-giving, has a new book out called Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays. A few years ago, we argued that gift cards in particular are a bad idea. Alex Tabarrok, writing at Marginal Revolution about what he wanted for Christmas, put it this way: “The economist in me says the best gift is cash. The rest of me rebels. … [W]e want the gift giver to buy something for us that we would not have bought for ourselves. Or more precisely, one of our selves wants this — the self that is usually restrained, squashed, and limited, the wild self, the passionate self, the romantic self.”

So today’s question is: what’s an optimal gift for the economist on your shopping list?

If you qualify for the following question, you might want to answer it as well: what’s the best (or worst) gift you’ve ever been given by an economist?

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  1. JC says:

    My $0.03: the optimal gift for the economist on your shopping list is something that he/she clearly wants to buy but for some reason hasn’t purchased already. My sister wants a Snuggie but refuses to buy one b/c she said that the purchasing process would make her feel silly b/c it’s an ‘as seen on TV’ type of product. Plus, it’s easier to avoid friendly ridiculy of a silly product if you say that you received it as a gift. Or if there’s something that someone wants but feels is too extravagant e.g. a gift card to that restaurant that he/she feels is too expensive, etc.

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  2. Owen says:

    a copy of Super Freakonomics….

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  3. Dave says:

    My economist father got me some great beer last Christmas. Can’t ask for anything better than that.

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  4. JF says:

    You buy an economist something they want, but won’t buy because the transaction cost of purchasing the good is to high for them, but low enough for you.

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  5. Jordan B says:

    I don’t know that there is an optimal gift but I think it’s safe to say that a there is additional utility associated with a gift as opposed to cash or a gift card. The sentiment involved can raise a gift’s value far beyond that of pure cash. See last week’s 30 Rock episode for a great example…

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  6. tom says:

    A donation in their name to the Human Fund

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  7. Alyssa says:

    I got my husband, a professor of economics, Beatles Rock Band. It was the best gift ever. That and the newest Malcolm Gladwell book.

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  8. Richard, UK says:

    I recently had a very similar scenario when my Mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said ‘something you think I will like’. That is the point isn’t it? Waldfogel, although I admire his work, has missed some of the key benefits from gifts.

    The ‘surprise element’, people value the prospect of a potentially fantastic gift. The benefit of a gift ‘signalling’ how much someone has bothered. I also agree with JC, it is a way to overcome price elasticity and perhaps make an investment that you may not have made for yourself but that would improve your life.

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