If you had $20 to spend, what would you get? Would it be the bottle of wine a guest brought to the dinner party you invited her to? No? It cost her $20, but you wanted it less than the jar of Nutella and very nice glass of whisky you bought with the last $20 you spent. Economists recognize that that gift was inefficient. She took $20 and turned it into something worth less than $20 by making it a gift for you. And you’ll do the same when she invites you over for dinner.
You agree with me, but you feel like something is fishy. I’m tricking you somehow maybe, but certainly you won’t bring an AJ with you the next time a friend invites you to a party. And you’d be disturbed if they did the same to you. A gift is just more thoughtful.
This was a common theme from my students listened to an Econtalk podcast. But I disagree with that assessment. Not as an economist (from which position I also disagree), but as a sociable person, from an aesthetic position. Cash is beautiful. When you give me a twenty dollar bill you are giving me the sweat of your brow to buy anything my heart desires. And what I receive may very well spare me the sweat of my own brow to meet my own needs. A bottle of wine is thoughtful, but cash gives me access to time and time is the most precious commodity.
Most people, when receiving a gift, would be happier with something that is less valuable to them than they would getting access to anything they want or need via a cash gift. And frankly, I’d rather try to convince them that I wronged them by not giving them cash over a bottle of wine over a bottle of wine. So the next time I go to a party I’ll bring a gift and not cash. At least if that party’s hosted by “civilians”. Economists I’ll just give cash… I’m not sure if that implies I like them more or less.