The Virtue of Fake Holidays

by on February 14, 2017 at 9:40 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

Jeremy McLellan is a comedian but like all great comedians he captures truths and complexities underneath the laughs.

Valentine’s Day is a just a fake holiday invented by Hallmark to sell greeting cards. So what have you invented recently to make people happy? Nothing, that’s what!

In three lovely sentences McLellan recaps Hayek versus Galbraith on the nature of advertising, consumer demand and entrepreneurship. Entire dissertations could be written parsing this out.

1 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 9:49 am

The assumption that Valentine’s Day produces net happiness is worth questioning. Obligatory gifts vs. dissatisfaction with said gifts, and those who feel the extra weight of lacking a special someone.

2 Student February 14, 2017 at 10:05 am

I am not a big Valentine’s Day guy myself but I get a noticeable amount of happiness out of a day that calls to mind the various years spent with my wife over the years as well as out of knowing that she to is reflecting on the various good times we have had together and how we have grown together over time. The dinner, wine, and hanky panky it often leads to is also quite enjoyable to. It’s well worth the 30 minutes it takes to think of something nice to do for her IMO.

3 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 10:29 am

Wouldn’t it produce even more happiness if it were done on some randomly chosen day? We could abandon Valentine’s Day, and all adopt an unexpected “My Wife is Great Day” instead. Will almost assuredly lead to ultra-high-quality sexual congress.

4 JNolan February 14, 2017 at 10:57 am

I think the point is that people (me included) don’t do this unless prompted/obligated by the occasion. If we all cared about each other enough to do what you suggest then the world would be a much better place.

5 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 11:27 am

Well I think I’ll try the “My Wife is Great Day” and see how it works. I foresee truly great, selfish things for the cost of a cake, flowers and dinner.

6 Student February 14, 2017 at 6:03 pm

It’s not selfish if you do it for someone else even if you both end up getting something out of it and enjoy it…

Also for the record…

There are at least three ancient St. Valentines – all of them martyrs – who have been remembered on February 14th.

The name Valentine comes from the Latin word valens, which means “strong” or “powerful”.

The earliest one was St. Valentine of Rome. He was a priest in Rome, martyred in A.D. 269, and buried near the Via Flaminia. That’s pretty much all we know about him.

Another one who lived right around the time of the first was St. Valentine of Terni (or Interamna). He was a bishop in central Italy who was martyred in A.D. 273. He was also buried near the Via Flaminia.

The third St. Valentine was martyred with a group of companions in Africa at some point in the early Church.

“St. Valentine” was added to the liturgical calendar by Pope Galesius in A.D. 496. It may have been St. Valentine of Rome, or some combination of the three (the lives of saints with the same name sometimes blur together).

There are also at least 11 more St. Valentines that came later, but who are not remember on February 14th.

But what about the stories about St. Valentine marrying soldiers in secret, or writing love letters? These stories all came centuries later and are not considered reliable by most historians. They may be based on some truth but it’s hard to really know.

In fact, this is why St. Valentine’s feast was not included in the General Roman Calendar in its 1969 revision: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”

7 mucgoo February 14, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Otherwise known as a wedding anniversary? Of course you could make it bi-yearly

8 Student February 14, 2017 at 6:12 pm

You know… no one is forcing anyone to buy their lady a valentine… it’s just you know… a nice thing to do. Luckily my wife thinks its a fake holiday… and I can agree with her and then stealthily still do something for her and make her happy, although I think by this point she is catching on, Ha.

9 RPLong February 14, 2017 at 10:10 am

Sure, just as there are people who enjoy trivial excuses to nurture their happiness, there are plenty of people out there who make a habit of feeling miserable for equally trivial excuses. Those latter people would feel miserable with or without Valentine’s Day.

10 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 10:22 am

I don’t think a person who is single would necessarily feel the same with or without Valentine’s Day. It can create a focal point for any misgivings they have about their single status, and a heightened feeling of failing to meet social expectations.

11 RPLong February 14, 2017 at 10:53 am

Even if so, this kind of thought process is entirely self-imposed. Someone else’s relationship is not a comment on one’s own lack thereof. It requires a great deal of self-absorption to feel that way. Valentine’s Day pre-dates all of us, which means it has nothing to do with any of us. Opt in or out, whatever you like. But if you feel bad on Valentine’s Day, that’s not the holiday’s fault. Come on!

12 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 11:19 am

It is a day that has been given prominence in our culture, and that we each are part of perpetuating. My three year old son will be handing out Valentine’s cards at his nursery school tomorrow. If a future thought process that says “you shouldn’t be single today” arises against this background, it isn’t entirely self-imposed.

13 RPLong February 14, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Oh really? You think handing out Valentines in nursery school teaches kids that they shouldn’t be single? That sounds like quite a stretch to me.

14 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 12:27 pm

It starts to establish the sense of a culturally important holiday. They later learn the holiday’s meaning, including the expectation of being paired with someone. The point being, it isn’t self-imposed. It is a culturally-imposed holiday, and particular expectations of your relationship status go hand-in-hand with it.

15 N.K Anton February 14, 2017 at 2:16 pm

This is probably the most sensitive treatment of other people’s feelings I’ve seen in the comments. So +1 for Hayek after all?

16 Doug February 14, 2017 at 11:16 am

Revealed preference: How many single people would choose to wipe Valentine’s day from history? They don’t have to endure the jealousy of this year alone, but in the future when they’re entangled they don’t get to celebrate. My prediction is that very few would. Most lonely people are desperately looking forward to a time when they’ll have someone special to celebrate with.

Flip side, how many elderly people would trade all their happy Valentine’s Days with their loved one, for erasing the sad ones that they spent alone. My guess is virtually zero. Besides the perpetually lonely, which blessedly is a very small subset, the vast majority of people have derived significant positive utility from Valentine’s day by the end of their life. Even if Valentine’s is lonely for a lot of people in any given year, it’s a net positive for almost anyone who’s ever lived through the age of Hallmark.

17 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 11:25 am

I’m convinced. Let’s hold a national referendum. It will come to be known as the “Sexit” vote.

18 John February 14, 2017 at 12:40 pm

“The assumption that Valentine’s Day produces net happiness is worth questioning.” Sure but even more, is that something that could even be measured in order to make any claim one way or the other. The vast majority of the cost and benefits are so subjective and personal I don’t see how one could even pretend to suggest they could be integrated across society in some type of social welfare function. Moreover, any attempt to do so then requires it be integrated into a GE model and I cannot help but thinking the impact would fall well inside the noise inherent in any such GE model and it’s estimated equilibrium.

19 chrisare February 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm

This. I would say the anxiety for couples about doing it right + anxiety for singles about being single > the pleasure of a romantic day that is fundamentally no different than any other day.

And then there’s the cost of reduced romanticism on other days due to romantic clustering on V day.

20 mavery February 14, 2017 at 9:49 am

Perhaps I’m missing the point, but it seems that the second sentence implies a premise (that Valentine’s Day on net makes people more happy than they would otherwise be) that I’m not ready to grant.

21 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 9:55 am

Jinx. You owe me flowers, dinner, and jewelry.

22 rayward February 14, 2017 at 9:55 am

Hayek (and Galbraith for that matter) didn’t use the internet and wasn’t exposed to the constant manipulation (phishing) that users of the internet (phools) are subject to. One need not believe everything Galbraith believed to recognize that “wants” are as often created as naturally needed or even naturally desired. For those who don’t believe people are manipulated, I offer the market values of Google and Facebook and Amazon as proof that manipulation works. As for Hallmark, people can create their own VD cards on the internet. Of course, they will likely be manipulated into buying something besides a VD card while remembering their special person. A new Lexus perhaps.

23 RPLong February 14, 2017 at 10:12 am

I didn’t know I wanted my wife until I met her. Did she manipulate me?

24 Pshrnk February 14, 2017 at 12:01 pm


25 TMC February 14, 2017 at 10:24 am

Calling Valentine’s Day “VD” just seems wrong.

26 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 10:38 am

If my math is right, my first kid was the result of Valentine’s Day. So even more consequential things can be spread under its influence.

27 Whatever February 14, 2017 at 11:02 am

November 7th is the resulting birthday for Valentine’s day. It isn’t in the top half of most common birthdays in the US.

The most common birthdays are all in September (Christmas to New Years).

28 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 11:16 am

A few days off from that. So I guess it was just standard “cold boring February day.”

29 msgkings February 14, 2017 at 11:54 am

Could still be V-Day, gestation periods are not exactly 270 days every time. I think one of my kids, who was born near November 7 but not on it, was a V-Day baby.

30 Amigo February 14, 2017 at 8:22 pm

hmm. I’m a Nov 7 baby. I now know something I didn’t know before about myself.

31 Alex Tabarrok February 14, 2017 at 9:58 am

Yes, the questions raised are why entire dissertations could be written on this issue.

32 Ray Lopez February 14, 2017 at 10:58 am

Yes, but CONTROL + F + “Patents” still yields no hits on this thread except mine, despite the comedian clearly stating “So what have you INVENTED recently to make people happy? Nothing, that’s what!” (emphasis added). And why is that? Why do people focus more on the ‘keep costs down by making everything into a commodity’ issue rather than the ‘raise incentives through product differentiation via patents’ issue? Because of people like YOU, AlexT, are drilling constantly into their head how a MR=Price (average revenue) is “Made from the Best Stuff on Earth TM” and something we should all aspire to, like we all want to become Malthusian wheat farmers working for subsistence wages. People like YOU, AlexT, is why this country has not pushed out the production possibilities frontier, is in a Gordon-Cowenian Great Stagnation and still focuses on the diminishing returns known as ‘free trade’ rather than educating people on next-gen patent laws which we all agree, even YOU to me by private email, need to be done. YOU, AlexT, will go through your career knowing as an educator you failed to motivate people to see beyond the rote learning of Econ 101. Another AlexT in the year 2100+ will have to do what YOU should be doing now.

Yes, whoosh, right over your flat top bubba reader. The comic mentions patents indirectly but nobody gets the punchline. How sad. Gutter humor and slapstick is all you get, which is typical, as I would understand since I’ve done standup comedy, even winning a prize (more of a participation prize than a real prize).

33 Ray Lopez February 14, 2017 at 11:03 am

PS–as a fascinating article in BBC once pointed out, and hard to summarize here, comics actually ‘patent’ jokes internationally and through negative sanctions akin to those Jewish diamond workers who depend on trust, will ostracize another comic who steals jokes. Thus even comics promote something that does not exist today de facto: international patents (I know about WIPO/EPO patents, please, but as a practical matter to get a world patent is prohibitively expensive). Zing! Right over your flat top but you laugh anyway, since everybody around you is laughing. Jokes on you however. An entire dissertation can be written on this indeed.

34 Ray Lopez February 14, 2017 at 11:31 am

An example of improved IP law in an area many of you can relate to (if you’re of the kind–which is traditional–that says inventors will invent regardless of incentives because that’s what they do, so nerds do not respond to incentives, which is largely true but the counterfactual is the people who never even bother with invention since it does not pay): imagine hearing a song that you can improve on, as a sort-of ‘derivative work’ in copyright but not quite (in that it’s still copyright infringement). With today’s copyright law, Disney will sue you and win, and shut you down, in the same way JK Rowling shut down some outfit in Russia that was doing a derivative work of Harry Potter based on Russian mythology (that I personally thought was not even close to the Potter series). But, in my new-and-improved IP hypothetical, the person making the ‘improved’ version and the original rights holder would be singing Kumbaya, if not “Happy Birthday to You (c)”, and enjoying royalties according to their creative contributions to the new work, as determined by a panel of experts (not the mere bureaucrats or court appointed experts and judges of today, who are over their heads and not skilled in the art).

A practical example: in the Philippines I heard a happy version of the song “Say Something (I’m giving up on you)” (Great Big World) but it was clearly a knock-off of the original that would not be copyrightable (not a derivative work). Yet it was worth hearing, very cool, and the only reason I heard it is that PH has no copyright protection, de facto. You’ll not hear this work outside of PH because of our stupid IP laws that AlexT refuses to talk about except destructively (he wants to abolish all (c) protection, essentially). But in a better world you would. People can invent even small matters, it’s not rocket science nor necessarily Nobel Prize caliber inventions we’re talking about.

35 msgkings February 14, 2017 at 11:56 am

Ray I appreciate when you do longer comments, makes it easier to skip over them.

36 derek February 14, 2017 at 10:29 am
37 msgkings February 14, 2017 at 11:56 am

Add it to the list of Trump faults, he’s a boner killer

38 Parody Account February 14, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
And you’re a cuck.
No sex for you!

39 TMC February 14, 2017 at 1:38 pm

That’s OK. I don’t like my women with boners. But then again, I’m not in LA.

40 Slocum February 14, 2017 at 10:29 am

These comments are pretty funny. Valentines Day was in no way created by Hallmark. The original holiday dates from Roman times and people have been exchanging gifts, notes and card on Feb 14th for hundreds of years (‘Sweetest Day’ is the new ‘fake’ holiday). But when Valentines Day was presented as a creation of the market, the resident leftish curmudgeons were predictably ready to pounce.

41 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 10:34 am

No, this is a curmudgeon: “CUPID, n. The so-called god of love. This bastard creation of a barbarous fancy was no doubt inflicted upon mythology for the sins of its deities. Of all unbeautiful and inappropriate conceptions this is the most reasonless and offensive. The notion of symbolizing sexual love by a semisexless babe, and comparing the pains of passion to the wounds of an arrow–of introducing this pudgy homunculus into art grossly to materialize the subtle spirit and suggestion of the work–this is eminently worthy of the age that, giving it birth, laid it on the doorstep of prosperity. – Ambrose Bierce”

42 Dick the Butcher February 14, 2017 at 11:18 am

Greek god Apollo (one Homeric appellation is “Shoot Afar”) shot mythical arrows which brought pestilence and death to the Achaean encampment before Ilium/Troy.

Anyhow, I’m old enough to be past that stuff. They made us read Plato, The Republic, in school 100 years ago. Here is a noteworthy quote, “How do you feel about sex, Sophocles? Are you still capable of having sex with a woman? He replied, ‘Be quiet, man! To my great delight, I have broken free of that, like a slave who has got away from a rabid and savage master.’”

Sometimes I pity youths.

43 msgkings February 14, 2017 at 11:58 am

If you pity them why do you get so mad when they are on your lawn?

44 Dick the Butcher February 14, 2017 at 12:51 pm

You’re correct. It would require a heart of stone not to laugh like a hyena.

45 Turkey Vulture February 14, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Could be genuinely concerned they will trigger the mines.

46 Dick the Butcher February 14, 2017 at 2:59 pm


No mines. No punji stakes, either. There are little kids running in the neighborhood. Plus, I’d become exhausted dragging away the corpses.

47 Floplo February 14, 2017 at 10:29 am

Except Hallmark didn’t invent Valentine’s day, they repurposed (and even that might not be their doing actually) something that was invented (and continously celebrated) for more than thousand years…

48 Axa February 14, 2017 at 10:37 am

Valentine’s it’s a great day, you can sing a lovely song to your partner while sticking it to believers of any “interventionist god”. I should relearn this song on the piano and be very happy =)

49 JakeS February 14, 2017 at 10:40 am

For everyone concerned about defending the historical record, would it help if he replaced the first period with a question mark?

The way I read it the first time, he wasn’t making an official pronouncement as the worlds most eminent historian of holidays… he was responding to conventional wisdom.

50 Dick the Butcher February 14, 2017 at 11:06 am

It’s not as if I need an excuse to drink.

My favorite “holy day of obligation” is St. Patrick’s (Patron Saint of the New York Archdiocese) Day. Only thing, it’s worse than New Year’s Eve as an amateur night.

St. Valentine’s Day is as good as any excuse to eat chocolate.

Formerly, I would cop out. I used to buy a dozen roses until, one year, the warden found the local florist had given her 11 roses. Also, my former cop-out for The Feast of the Nativity was jewelry. I stopped that, too. Now, I put a red ribbon on the rifle or shotgun I wanted for me.

51 Hazel Meade February 14, 2017 at 11:48 am's_Day

The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”, as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady).[6] Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards.[7]

52 John February 14, 2017 at 12:35 pm

I think anyone writing on the topic should look at South Korea’s “marketing” days. The 14th of every month has been designated some type of holiday — mostly couples related but one that honors those without a significant other, just to be fair I guess — where some form or purchase is associated with the day. The Korean’s seemed to be pretty quick to pick up on the plan of the “holiday” being about selling rather than the underlying relationship aspects; hence the term “marketing days”.

53 msgkings February 14, 2017 at 12:50 pm

In China they have an opposite holiday, Singles Day. They ‘celebrate’ being single not paired up.'_Day

54 Anon7 February 15, 2017 at 12:57 am

China’s one-child policy no doubt contributed to the popularity of the holiday.

55 Benny Lava February 14, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Alex and Tyler both going full retard on the same day? A sign of sensescence? An argument against lifetime tenure? Is this a Straussian reading of the last 2 posts?

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