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Freakonomics on Gifting

Happy 2009!! I promise that this year will see me doing more on this blog.

I am just getting home after a few days away. Things seem to be firing up in my brain, and tomorrow I will find out how really fired up the brain is.

Before I left I read a post on the Freakonomics blog over at the New York Times website. I probably should say that I have been dallying more and more with economics these days; for instance, my reading list for the holiday included Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, and Milton Friedman's Free to Choose. I finished the former and I am still reading the latter. It seemed only fair to read from the accused before I file behind Ms Klein - if I file behind her.

Anyway, back to Freakonomics. One of the bloggers, Justin Wolfers, wrote a post that got my economic anthropological feelers out. Mr Wolfers was wondering why buying and gift-wrapping a CD made the gift more real than if he had bought the MP3 format on iTunes and transfered the property rights to the giftee. This becomes an issue for him, especially since he knows that the person would probably simply convert the CD to MP3 files, and probably never listen to the CD itself. He wondered why it seemed that physical gift felt more real than the gifts of bytes. His question:

What explains our schizophrenic attitude toward the invisible economy? We embrace the flow of bits and bytes in our daily lives, but we feel reluctant to give them as gifts.

I have checked the comments on the post but I did not see anybody who actually mentioned the anthropological idea of gifts. Now, I am wondering whether anybody has ever thought to bring Marcel Mauss to the 21st century, and to look at the kind of issue Mr Wolfers raises through his lens. I would appreciate it if anybody could point to this kind of work.

(Please see the full post and comments here.)


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