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