Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas ...

... is just too costly.

That article's from 1990, so the figures are outdated, but most of the points still apply today. Samples:

Although for many years Christmas has been justified on the grounds that it is "merry,'' rigorous quantitative analysis establishes that the opposite is the case....

[U]p to a third of purchases may be ill-suited to their recipients. Christmas is really a throwback to all the inefficiencies of the barter economy, in which people have to match other people's wants to their offerings. Of course, money was invented precisely to solve this "double coincidence of wants" problem. ...

For parents, one especially exasperating aspect of Christmas is mindless toy fetishism.... What's more, toys are unusually hazardous consumer products....

Christmas increases congestion. At least in large urban areas, it is by far the most unpleasant time to shop, travel, dine out, or go to the bathroom in a mall. Just when stores are at their most crowded, shopping becomes mandatory; just when everyone else is making family visitations, they are de rigueur....

Christmas destroys the environment and innocent animals and birds.... This year, according to the Humane Society, at least 4 million foxes and minks will be butchered just to provide our Christmas furs. To stock our tables, the Department of Agriculture tells me, we'll also slaughter 22 million turkeys, 2 million pigs, and 2 million to 3 million cattle, plus a disproportionate fraction of the 6 billion chickens that the United States consumes each year. To anyone who has ever been to a turkey farm, Christmas and Thanksgiving take on a new and somewhat less cheerful meaning. Every single day during the run-up to these holidays, thousands of bewildered, debeaked, growth-hormone-saturated birds are hung upside down on assembly-line racks and given electric shocks. Then their throats are slit and they are dropped into boiling water....

Christmas leads to a sharp rise in absenteeism and a slump in labor productivity that is unlikely to be recaptured the rest of the year....

Far from being "the season to be jolly," Christmas is really the season of sadness and despair. This period's compulsory merriment, hypercommercialism, heavy drinking, and undue media emphasis on the idealized, two-child, two-parent, orthodox Christian family makes those who don't share such lifestyles or religious sentiments feel left out, lonely, and even somewhat un-American. And even in so-called normal families, media hype about the season's merriments often raises expectations and sets up many for disappointment....

Christmas is one of the single most important contributors to obesity -- the average American consumes more than 3,500 calories at Christmas Day dinner alone. Naturally, January is the peak month for diet plans, many of which end up in failure and despair.

Perhaps most important of all, from a purely distributional standpoint, Christmas almost certainly aggravates inequality, since most gift-giving takes place within the family or the same social class, and doesn't reach the people who really need our help. Salvation Army drum-beating aside, Christmas almost certainly reduces our capacity for charity by draining us of wealth that we might otherwise give to the needy, and of our charitable impulses....

Christmas commercialism, of course, is a modern innovation. The ancient Christians did not even observe the holiday until the fifth century, medieval Christians observed it much more modestly, and the Puritans sensibly refused to celebrate it at all. Only in the last fifty years, with the perfection of mass-market advertising and the commercialization of religion in general, has it become such a command performance. Modern Christmas is like primitive Keynesianism, a short-run-oriented economic experiment that has been tried and found wanting. It is the flipside of the positive contribution the "Protestant ethic" once made to capitalism -- Christianity's high holiday now almost certainly makes us feel worse off.

1 comments:

Jeff said...

My goodness, what a depressing piece. And what, pray tell, has compelled young Jaltcoh to share such a downer this Christmas Eve?

Well, I'm not going to let it spoil this heathen's holiday!

Merry Christmas!