Have a Very Homo Economicus Christmas (Ep. 105)

(Photo: ahenobarbus)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called “Have a Very Homo Economicus Christmas.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)

It’s the latest in our annual series of explanations about how economists can take all the fun out of the holidays. This year, we have one simple mission: ask economists how they go about shopping for the holidays.

You’ll hear from Steve Levitt; Alex Tabarrok (who wants gifts directed to his “wild self”); Justin Wolfers (who has written before on Christmas efficiency); and Joel Waldfogel (here’s his famous “Deadweight Loss of Christmas” paper; he’s also the author of Scroogenomics).

Wolfers tries to ease our holiday stress by pointing to “the spotlight effect”:

You tend to think that you’re in the spotlight and everyone’s looking at you. Applying that to Christmas, it’s like you think that everyone’s looking at the gift you’re about to give and it’s super important. And so you put a lot more weight on it, and maybe you spend a little bit too much. The truth is you’re not that interesting. The person who’s about to get the present is going to get dozens of others and they’ll probably forget what you’re going to give them.

If you need even more help, you might want to check out Cass Sunstein’s “Holiday Shopping Tips From Behavioral Economists” (paywall).

Happy Everything, everybody.


You have a trackman?! Please invite me over for Christmas.

ivel knuf

is this SFW?


No adult should be giving another adult: pajamas/robes/slippers unless the other adult is in a nursing home.

No adult should be giving another adult: body butter (!) unless the other adult is in an intimate relationship with the giver.

No adult should be giving another adult: cheap cologne. The kind with a matching 'lotion', which sits on the shelf for years to come, useless. Unless the other adult is actually a teenage girl who likes that kind of stuff! This is how Bath & Body Works unloads all those stinkers and stays in business. (I will never forget my m-i-l calling, breathless: "I'm out Christmas shopping, what kind of cologne do you like?" My heart sank. Why? Why go through this farce? I couldn't think of anything, told her buy whatever she thought best, and so I was the proud recipient of a bottle of foul-smelling bubble bath that sat on the shelf for a year...)



That previous post just cracked me up about the Body Butter. Body butter is just good lotion. I have given it to my girl friends a couple times, as a reminder to pamper and love themselves.

I totally agree on the cologne though. That is a personal choice because you're the one who has to smell yourself all day, it should be something you know you like.

Happy Holidays!

Brian L

On the topic of gift cards, I couldn't agree more! This year, I may have come up with a solution... I recently sent my mother a check written out to a local spa. Essentially it was a gift card (slightly more thoughtful than cash), but with one significant (and beneficial) difference: If my mother never uses it or loses it, I never have to pay for it! I will also know if/when she uses it. No matter the outcome, she is no worse off and I only stand to gain from the outcome. Maybe there is a market for "gift card insurance"... for a small fee, the giver gets the balance back after an expiration date. However, I can't imagine any merchants wanting to offer such insurance at a reasonable price.

Philo Pharynx

Interesting. Companies like gift cards because a certain percent of them are lost/never used/osed once and the balance is ignored. Gift card insurance would need to cover their expected gain on this.

A friend and I once called gift certificates* as "money you can only spend in one place". We always thought it was an odd gift. So one year I gave him a gift certificate from giftcertificates.com. It could only be redeemed for more gift certificates. It was money twice removed.

*For you young'uns, before they had gift cards, they used to use paper certificates in much the same way.


I've solved the holiday gift-giving (and getting) problem to my own satisfaction. If you're not a kid*, you'll get something edible or drinkable, and give me the same. Probably chocolate, though I am fond of the neighbor who gives me a package of his home-smoked salmon every year.

*If you are, I pick a toy I want to play with :-)


It seems like a revised version of this episode was released to deal with some bleeped out swearing but I have to say I've noticed an increase in the amount of blue language on this podcast - feeling a little looser about things or am I imagining the whole thing?


You know, having married into a family that just doesn't do traditional things, I found the gift card comments to be a little condescending. My in-laws are getting a Lowe's gift card this year, since they are fixing up their house and go there practically every day. My husband already told them they are getting one (they also hate surprises, this family). I know that they will appreciate it, use it, and not feel guilty about it (as they do with so many other gifts - I'd almost rather not get them anything sometimes). So, gift cards are the perfect gift for some people. Don't knock them.

Michael Goldman

Sorry to post this question on what seems to be an inappropriate place.
Is universal gun control more cost effective and effective at preventing mass shooting then universal, high school mental health screening and focus gun control?
Could the gun industry help out with the costs involved?

Hi there and happy new year.
I am a family doctor and a parent of a 4 year old.
My holiday spirit has been shaken by the recent mass shooting.
I believe the freakanomis team to be the group to answer this question.