The week that was

  • Zinédine Zidane spent the week in Algeria and attended a soccer match on Thursday.
  • Setanta Sports has, unfortunately, discontinued its Setanta on Demand service for ITVN.
  • Dan Halpern has an article on Boris Vian in this week’s New Yorker. Vian was a French author, musician, artist, champion of jazz among other things, and Halpern’s essay prompted me to order Vian’s greatest novel, L’Écume des Jours.
  • Also in this week’s New Yorker, James Suroweicki writes about the increasing popularity of gift cards and the money we waste on unwanted gifts. He cites research that finds, in general, the amount we pay for gifts is higher than the value that their recipients place on the gifts. On the other hand, we place a disproportionately high value on unrequested gifts because we assume the givers put greater thought into them.

    An economist might suggest that the solution is to abandon the pretense and simply start exchanging small piles of money. The boom in gift cards is a kind of socially tolerable version of this: the cards are somehow more personal than cash, and they’re also not going to be wasted on an unwanted gift. But Waldfogel’s studies also suggest a very different solution: if most of the presents we buy are going to be less valuable in monetary terms than in sentimental ones, then there’s no reason to believe that the more expensive gift is a better gift. In fact, the more we spend at Christmas, the more we waste. We might actually be happier—and we’d certainly be wealthier—if we exchanged small, well-considered gifts rather than haunting the malls. Calculating the deadweight loss of Christmas gifts is a coldhearted project, but it leads to a paradoxically warmhearted conclusion: the fact of giving may be more important than what you give.

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