The Best Present Money Can Buy

Published: January 6, 2011, New York Times

Princeton, N.J.

NOW that the holidays are over, many disappointed gift-recipients are heading to the mall to return their useless, unattractive or thoughtless presents. Next year, why not spare them the trouble, and give cash instead?

It makes economic sense — many economists see cash as the most efficient gift, because it allows recipients to choose exactly what they want.

But this horrifies traditionalists, who see giving cash for Christmas as the ultimate commodification of a sacred ritual. Money is acceptable for charitable donations or bonuses, but certainly not for friends or family.

It turns out that both the economic realists who give money as presents and the traditionalists have history on their side, because this is a debate that began back in the early 20th century. As the consumer society expanded and Americans began giving more Christmas presents to more people, money emerged as an acceptable gift. Christmas money, according to a 1912 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, “supplies dearly cherished wishes, adds small luxuries, prevents worriment and gives opportunities for helpfulness as no other gift does.”….Read Full Story