Insight News

Feb 13th

Book review: Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays

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“Christmas provides the occasion for a large amount of spending… In the U.S., retail sales during the month of December tower visibly over the volume in adjacent months. What’s distinctive about all this spending… is that the choices are not made by the ultimate consumers… As a result, the massive holiday spending [does] a terrible job matching products with users... To make matters worse, we do much of this spending with credit, going into hock using money we don’t yet have to buy things that recipients don’t really want.”

In this book, I will show you the size of annual Christmas spending—and the amount’s that’s waste… I’ll also show you how present-day Christmas compares to the Christmas of our grandparents, and how we’ve shifted… to maxing out our credit cards.

I’ll make the case that in many circumstances it would be better to not buy presents for the holidays. Finally, I’ll point to some solutions that can stop the waste and make holiday giving a force for good.”

- Excerpted from the Introduction (pages 4-5)

How did Christmas come to be more closely associated with consumerism than with spiritualism? What sort of toll does the emotional and financial pressure to buy gifts we can’t afford take on today’s society? Should it matter that the recipients generally aren’t even very appreciative since they tend to get things they neither want nor would ever consider buying for themselves?

These are the sorts of uncomfortable questions raised by Joel Waldfogel in Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, a thought-provoking study which suggests that compulsive gift-giving leaves us less satisfied and in debt once all the euphoria of the season has worn off. Professor Waldfogel, who teaches Public Policy at the Wharton School, doesn’t rely on anecdotal evidence in arriving at his stunning conclusions, but on statistical research culled from interviews he conducted to prove that the annual ritual of exchanging presents amounts to little more than a mutual mass “orgy of wealth destruction.”

Given the state of the troubled economy and the high rate of bankruptcy, unemployment and mortgage foreclosures, one would hope that most folks wouldn’t need to rely on a cautionary tome like this for permission to scale back their annual Christmas shopping. Nevertheless, Dr. Waldfogel is more than willing to play the Scrooge, and say “Bah, humbug!” to the ubiquitous conspicuous consumption. The perfect stocking stuffer to slow the mad rush to the malls and to inspire a pause to reflect and possibly put the “Christ” back in Christmas.
Merry Capitalism!

Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays
by Joel Waldfogel
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, $19.95
174 pages
ISBN: 978-0-691-14264-7

To order a copy of Scroogenomics, visit:

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