Friday, 27 November 2009

The Ideal Christmas Present!

Hamish McRae in the ‘Indy’ has some Christmas gift ideas that are, well, a little strange to say the least:
What is true generosity now? This will, for many people, be the toughest economic background to Christmas of their experience.
He sounds almost pleased about that…
Set against this, the very idea of a great festive spending splurge is out of tune with the times. For many people that is not just out of tune; it is out of the question.
It is..?
Even the "haves" feel the need to be cautious, partly no one knows what nasties lurk around the corner but also because this is not the moment for conspicuous consumption. It is offensive, even if you have got the wherewithal to do so, to splash it around.
Says who?

Unless it’s an MP splashing out on a new duck house paid for with our money, I say, good luck to anyone splashing the cash around, so long as they’ve earned it.
But this still the festive season. That is embedded in our human psyche, the long tradition, predating Christianity that there should be some form of celebration at this time of year. So how should we celebrate when the economic and social headwinds are so strong?
Oh, I can just imagine how an ‘Indy’ columnist thinks we should all ‘celebrate’…
There seems to something quite profound happening at the moment in response to economic pressures. Just as difficult times make everyone question their own values, people are giving much more thought to what they are giving and why. The data inevitably is still sketchy and anecdotal but we can glimpse several new trends in the way people spend their money, trends that are evident this season but which will I suggest endure.
I doubt it.

If the changes are as a result of the straitened economic climate, then as soon as the economy picks up, it’ll be laissez les bon temps rouler again. It’s human nature.
The first and most obvious is the shift from giving people things to giving them services. That has been a trend for a while but this year it is more evident than ever before. So imports of the traditional present lines are down and a whole raft of service industries, especially theatres and restaurants, have developed ways of encouraging people to gift their service to someone else.
I really can’t see what he’s getting at here; if you buy someone a gift of a theatre ticket or a restaurant voucher, that’s still a ‘good’ even if it’s a service. I’m not gifting MY services, I’m gifting money to buy someone else’s
There is a sub-section of these service gifts, those that have a charitable element, that have been growing particularly this winter. The most original present on this line I have come across was by a friend who sent a loo as a birthday gift: it was a payment to a charity that would use the money to built (Ed: sic)latrines in rural Africa.
This is hardly new. Trendy lefties have been gifting each other goats for Africa and latrines for Bangladesh for years.

The Christmas glossies from the ‘Observer’, ‘Guardian’ and even the ‘Times’ are always full of ‘em. It’s become as traditionally seasonal for lefties as the first ‘Ronco’ ad of the holiday period used to be in times gone by for everyone else...
But there is another even bigger trend, which is to give time instead of money. Many people, from choice or circumstance, have more time now than they did a year ago but less money. It is of course much more precious because time, unlike money, cannot be replaced. The gift could simply be a grandparent giving a young family some baby-sitting time. Or it could be a younger person taking an older one out for some experience they might not otherwise have.
Now’s the time to take granny Zorbing then…

But Hamish has something really exceptional in mind:
A version of this trend is to give people a service that is in some way exceptional. The economist Fred Hirsch created a new concept in the 1960s, called "positional goods". They were goods that were, by their very nature, in scarce supply. For most goods, even luxury goods, the supply is flexible: you can build more Bentleys. But for some, such as an antique piece of furniture or jewellery, the supply cannot be increased. Fred Hirsch postulated that as the world got richer the price of positional goods would rise relative to other goods, as has indeed been the case.
Hmmm. What do you suggest then, Hamish?
… there are some services where money is not really the issue. What distinguishes these services is that access to them is limited not so much by money but by contacts – something that gives people a glimpse of another world, or an experience, that they could not otherwise have. That is what makes them so special.
Wow! Sounds good. Do tell!
There is a good example of this sort of rare service, which actually has been pioneered by this newspaper: the auctioning of services of people connected with the paper, which we do for charity every year. In this instance you can buy the service – you can buy lunch with the editor or have my fellow columnist (and cookery writer) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown cook you a meal.
Oh, great! Just what I always wanted…

Bet won’t be humble pie, will it?
But the key point is that this is something that most people normally could not buy.
Or more likely, would not buy…
What we buy is more important than how we buy it. And I think that this shift in values will outlast the recession. Just as it won't be back to business as usual for the banks or indeed the government, it won't be back to careers as usual for the rest of us.
Oh, I think it will, Hamish. I think it will….

7 comments:

Pavlov's Cat said...

Ta for link.

And once seen, who could ever forget Yjr Ronco Buttoneer

AntiCitizenOne said...

The best xmas prezzy ever is that the type of person who reads The Independent (of reality) is economically.

Krauser said...

Unsurprisingly he's totally missed the point of Fred Hirsch's book "The Social Limits to Growth".

Fred talked mostly about housing and education being positional goods and how rising prices for them are just an example of everyone standing on their tiptoes and no-one seeing further.

But you can't tell an Indy reader that their Islington flat going up in value is not a good thing, nor Tarquin going to private school.

Mac the Knife said...

I'll have Yasmin over for dinner. I'll even do the cooking. And perhaps a little theatre as well? The scene from 'Hannibal' where Lecter has Paul Krendler over for a bite I think. I still have all my instruments.

I hope she remembers to bring the wine...

*Lights the sparkler and chloroforms a pad*

JuliaM said...

"And once seen, who could ever forget Yjr Ronco Buttoneer"

Oooh! Now I want one! :)

"The best xmas prezzy ever is that the type of person who reads The Independent (of reality) is economically."

Obtuse? Incompetent?

"Unsurprisingly he's totally missed the point of Fred Hirsch's book "The Social Limits to Growth"."

I suspect he just read the bits he liked.

"And perhaps a little theatre as well? The scene from 'Hannibal' where Lecter has Paul Krendler over for a bite I think. "

You'd go hungry, though, wouldn't you? Not more than a mouthful, I'd say...

AntiCitizenOne said...

Julia,

I think it might have censored the swear-word at the end,

von Spreuth said...

Or it could be a younger person taking an older one out for some experience they might not otherwise have.

Dunno about that. My Granny was never quite the same after that acid trip we took her on.