Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Anthropologist Melvin Konner Fails To See When He Criticizes Economists And Their Views On Gift Giving

See What Economists Fail to See in the Act of Gift-Giving: New research suggests why holiday gifts—unlike purchases for oneself—have a value far higher than some economists previously thought from the WSJ. Here is a letter I submitted to the WSJ:
"Melvin Konner takes economists to task because they ignore the fact that gifts symbolize your friendship with someone else and instead focus only on their efficiency ("What Economists Fail to See in the Act of Gift-Giving," Dec. 5.) He argued that gifts have sentimental value, too. That may be true, but we could just as easily see gift giving as an example of what economists call signals. If I spend money on a gift for you, that signals that I am willing to incur a cost to show to you that I am truly your friend. You would not spend money on another person if you did not think you were friends. Konner actually hints at this when he says we feel cheated if we give gifts to a friend but they never reciprocate. Their not spending money on us signals their lack of feelings for us."
 To me, just the very fact that we spend money to prove to another person that we are their friend shows that economics is a very significant part of gift giving. Konner did not mention this possibility at all.