Episode #22 - Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays

Today, on Black Friday, and right before Cyber Monday—the biggest shopping days of the year—Ed and I thought it would be fun to discuss the interesting, funny, and thought-provoking book by Joel Waldfogel: Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.

The author makes the case that the deadweight loss to the economy from gift giving, in 2007, totaled $12 billion, out of approximately $66.5 Billion spent (about 12%). Citizens Against Government Waste would classify Christmas as a wasteful government program.

Gift giving severs link between buying decision and item’s value to its user—the transaction actually destroys value. To add insult to injury, we are obliged to pretend to be grateful!

His complaint is not the level of spending or the consumption, but the waste.

We discussed the four ways you can spend money in the economy:


Former Congressman Dick Armey pointed out how difficult spending is in Category II (Gift), let alone Category IV (Government):

Every year, I worry and fret select the right birthday gift for my wife, Susan. Every year, try as I might, I manage to choose the wrong thing. If I can’t figure the needs and desires of the one person who is closest to me in the world and who I deeply love and care for, how can we expect the government to do a better job?

Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need parental supervision.

Hierarchy of value of gift giving

  • Aunts & uncles & grandparents = 75%
  • Parents = 97%
  • Friends =91%
  • Siblings =99%
  • Significant others = 102%

Further, we spend approximately 2.8 billion hours shopping in December. To put that number in context, the old USSR—before it imploded—spent 35 billion hours annually standing in line for everyday products and services.

Infographic from Deloitte’s 2014 annual holiday survey

Deloitte annual holiday survey: Infographic by Deloitte University Press

Economist Ian Ayres said this about Waldfogel’s book:

Joel Waldfogel is one of the smartest and funniest economists on the planet. I think of him every time I start to unwrap a present. Buy Scroogenomics for your friends and family. It makes the perfect Christmas gift.


Ed Kless

Ed Kless joined Sage in July of 2003 and is currently the senior director of partner development and strategy. He develops and delivers curriculum for Sage business partners on the art and practice of small business consulting. Courses include: Sage Consulting Academy, Business Strategy and Customer Experience Workshops. Ed is the author of The Soul of Enterprise: Dialogues on Business in the Knowledge Economy, a compendium of a few of the episodes of his VoiceAmerica talk-show The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy with Ron Baker, founder of the VeraSage Institute where Ed is also a senior fellow.