Economists and Christmas

Many things happened to me yesterday. But one of the more interesting ones was that I attended a debate put on jointly by the GOVERNMENT ECONOMICS NETWORK AND CHAIR IN PUBLIC FINANCE on whether or not the Christmas extravaganza is a waste of everyone’s time and money.

The first thing I noticed is that despite this not being my own comfortable corner of academia, the people all acted the same with various in-jokes self-deprecating in tone. They opened with a comment on gender: the two men were against Christmas and the two women were for it. Looking around the room it seemed unbalanced gender-wise anyway (way more men), although the room was packed out signalling the event’s cultural relevance and general interest to quite a few people.

Each speaker was given 10 minutes to argue there position. The first speaker took about 20 or more minutes and actually argued both sides. He was an excellent speaker, engaging and interesting to listen to. I could have gladly heard him for the full hour, mainly because I disagreed with what he said. I think he must hate Christmas quite a bit.

The rebuttal included bribes and an appeal to emotion and sentimentality. Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory episodes and even the good old classic the Grinch abounded along with a comfortable about of ‘lols’. The next two speakers were also very good, but it is perhaps no surprise that the pro-Christmas-female team won. We are not walking wallets, and no matter how much you feel coerced into buying gifts, we all know that it is more than that.

The point that interested me the most was about holiday time off work and travel. The first speaker said it made no sense to schedule this during the worst weather ever. He is American–did he forget the talk is in New Zealand, where it is summer now? But more than that, without close-to universal breaks at one point in the year, I would never see or spend time with my family. Either I or they would always be working. We would not be capable of coordinating similar times off, and in fact, my workaholic family would never get a break were it not for Christmas. But I guess I can see how whole countries shutting down could effect the economy for the worse.

Other ideas included: how a present of $10 value is received as lower, like $5, and so cash is a better present. How much value does the giver receive for having given something? If we bunch all our sales in one month, we have actually stolen sales from other months rather than created MORE money for the economy. There was even evidence for a spike in divorce filing the day after Christmas because of poor gift giving.

Since it was also economists giving the talk, there was not mention whatsoever of the religious significance, which I guess I can understand, but since the base underlying theme for Christmas (in modern times, don’t give me that Christians usurped it from druids, that is fine, but hardly relevant now) it should have some mention. Not only do sales, shopping and money spent peak at Christmas but so does church attendance. Economists see in money only–including of course the idea of time spent and so on–but I can’t help but think that more should be considered.

I recently finished watching this series of videos called We the Economy in an attempt to better understand the world around me–all the videos are excellent by the way. The one that I was reminded of during this talk was how when we calculate a countries’ GDP: we look at numbers, and not happiness. I think that may have been the problem with the anti-Christmas argument.

Also…you maybe tortured by brass bands in the street playing carols, but I LOVE it.

So what do you think? Is the commercial hype of Christmas a waste of time and money where we feel forced to buy things for each other that no one wants? Or is it more than that, and so worthwhile?

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2 thoughts on “Economists and Christmas

  1. i may be the first and maybe ONLY one to say — yes — of course we should celebrate christmas. it is an event that to anyone who even loosely adheres to the christian faith, is of momentous importance. whatever trappings, traditions, meaningful as well as meaningless — for me do not detract from the central theme which is IMMANUEL….

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    • yeah, they pretty much ignored the religious aspect completely. I was surprised it didn’t at least get a mention. The most it got was a passing reference to Saint Nicholas…

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