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From the Chait Vault: The Case Against Gift Giving

As promised, here comes another chapter in the Chait chronicles. Back in 1997, Jon really got into the Christmas spirit. Not only did he relish his childhood memories of exposing the myth of Santa Claus, but he also disavowed the age-old practice of gift giving:

My earliest Christmas memory is of dogmatic conflict. I spent hours trying to disabuse my elementary-school classmates of their belief in Santa Claus. My passionate (and, I should point out, correct) arguments met with horrified indignation. Historical vindication--most of my peers came around to my point of view by the time we reached high school--did little to win back their warm regard. In fact, I have just one other opinion that consistently provokes the same level of vituperation as Santa heresy. It happens to impugn another holiday nostrum: gift giving. My case is rooted in a simple, and I would say noble, desire to promote human progress. After all, when we troop to the mall to pick out presents for our loved ones, we are reverting to barbaric rituals that predate the rise of trade. "An intensive circulation of gifts and return gifts, of ceremonial and hallowed offerings," writes economic historian Georges Duby, "permeated the entire social structure" of pre-modern Europe. The proliferation of presents, while economically inefficient--"These offerings partly destroyed the products of labor"--were justified as promoting "goodwill." Worst of all, you couldn't escape the gift cycle. Quoting anthropologist Marcel Mauss, Duby notes "[B]asically they were strictly obligatory, under pain of private or open warfare." While these scholars were describing a primitive economy, it still holds true. If you don't believe me about private or open warfare, try telling, say, your girlfriend that you don't do gifts. More on that below.

Be sure to check out the whole piece here.