Well, it’s December. As my colleague Tim Harford mentioned in this magazine two weeks ago, ’tis the season for references to economist Joel Waldfogel’s now-notorious 1993 paper, “The Deadweight loss of Christmas”. Waldfogel has recently published Scroogenomics, which expands on that paper and is aimed squarely at the market that has lapped up offerings such as Freakonomics and, indeed, Harford’s own The Undercover Economist.
Waldfogel’s argument is simple: we are worse at buying for other people than we are at buying for ourselves. As a result, every pound spent on someone else generates less value than a pound that we spend on ourselves – about 18 per cent less, Waldfogel estimates. He suggests that since Americans spend about $66bn a year on Christmas gifts, this implies an annual destruction of around $12bn of wealth – just under 0.1 per cent of gross domestic product.
When we get some hideous present what we should say, apparently, is “why did you get me this crap?” Instead, most of us smile and say thank you. As a result, inept gift-givers don’t receive the feedback that would enable them to improve their performance.
Every year I go through the same ritual in which Mr M asks me what I want for Christmas. Unlike most people, I provide detailed feedback to improve his performance – I (a) explain that I don’t want to be asked since I like surprises, and (b) ask how is it that someone who has shared my life for so long can have no idea what to buy for me?
Despite all this, here we are again. Men fall into two camps when it comes to presents – either they are rubbish and contribute disproportionately to GDP destruction, or they are brilliant. If you are one of the latter, look away now. But if you are in the first camp and are planning to give me a present (yes, Mr M, that had better include you!), here are some suggestions.
An Amanda Wakeley silk cashmere scarf. They come in three colours, cost £295 and any (or all!) will do. I plan to wear it in the field, as Amanda Wakeley does herself, and with any luck not only will it make me look like her, it will make me shoot clays like her and might even get my black Labrador to behave as well as hers does. I can dream…
An Asprey scarf buckle. Having operated for many years on the unshakeable principle that a girl cannot have too many Hermès scarves, I now have an enviable collection that I would love to be able to turn into belts. This nifty bit of kit costs £55. Now that Asprey is under sensible ownership again and has settled back into being a sensible British shop, feel free.
Something from Anya Hindmarch’s new bespoke shop in Pont Street. Anything, from keyrings to bags, can now be embossed with a message. Get the Cost Centres to inscribe something loving. And I mean something more loving than “what’s for dinner?”
A flight bag. Can someone please design something feminine and big enough to take everything I need to carry? Maps, charts, kneeboard, pens, my headphones… In fact, learning to fly opens up all sorts of present possibilities. And when they have designed a bag, how about a more feminine flight watch? At the moment I’m making do with the timer I use to bake cakes in the Aga.
I hope that my list is long enough. And if all else fails, try anything made out of white chocolate, anything from the Hermès 24 Faubourg range (the only perfume I wear) – indeed anything at all. The risk of GDP destruction is simply not an acceptable excuse.
‘Crunch Time’, a collection of Mrs Moneypenny columns from the credit crunch of 2008 and 2009, is now available at www.mrsmoneypenny.com