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Lecture 8

Lecture 8: Reciprocity: Why Are Christmas Presents Wrapped?

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Carleton University
ANTH 1002
Eric Henry

Lecture 8: Reciprocity: Why Are Christmas Presents Wrapped? Why do we give people presents? “When I set out to spend $50 on you, I operate at a significant disadvantage. I'm not certain about what you have or what you want, so when I spend $50 on a gift, I may buy something worth nothing to you. There's no guarantee that consumer satisfaction meets, exceeds, or even comes close to the amount spent on the gift... Given the $65 billion in U.S. holiday spending per year, that means we get $13 billion less in satisfaction than we would receive if we spent that money the usual way—carefully, on ourselves” (Waldfogel 2009: 1).  Gifts are a loss on economy, incredibly wasteful  Eventually, money from people like Donald Trump will circulate through the economy, and come to us less rich people  Economists say that this is wasteful  Some people say that even though you buy wasteful stuff, you’re providing an economic stimulus, but most people buy expensive things put it on credit, which really doesn’t help the economy  Gifts of cash are considered “tacky,” so the next best thing is gift cards; measure of how much someone is worth to you ($50 at Target)  Anthropologists argue that Waldfogel misses the point; there are good reasons for us to buy gifts, otherwise we didn’t do it o It’s not because we’re irrational or trying to stimulate the economy, but there is something very cultural about it Aside from some household implements (cooking pots, axes, shoes, cloth, etc.), Maisin households obtain almost everything they need from their gardens and the forest (sweet potato, banana, guava, yam, plantain, taro).  Children are given a small plot of land worked by their parents, and the food grown there is specifically grown for that child  These gardens are essential to eat and live their everyday lives  Each household is more than capable of obtaining everything they need on their own; they don’t go hungry  Food is always moving around the village even though everyone has what they need; give gifts to households In a gift economy, goods are in constant motion within the community. The total of goods given and received nearly always balances out among households.  The people of Papua New Guinea that accepted shells or beads as payment for digging for gold, operated with a different economy system  They saw the shells and beads as gifts, not a wage for their work  Gift economy has been the way of doing things for a long time  In many parts of the world, countries employ gift economies  The Maisin gave bananas to Barker, he didn’t know what to do with them; then he learned he could give them back or to someone else o He was beginning to understa
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