Seasonal advice from the dismal science, Part 1 of 3

Burn your Christmas card list. Deep down, we all know that many Christmas card exchanges are more like vendettas than expressions of seasonal goodwill. Is your yearly card from former neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Grinch a genuine effort to keep in touch – or does it reflect the fact that they’ll be damned rather than be the first to stop? Thomas Schelling argues for a bankruptcy procedure in which all lists should be burned and people could start again, motivated only by genuine good-will. Take his advice and you’ll be doing yourself a favor, not to mention releasing all those near-strangers you inflict cards upon. (Read more.)

Take your children to a good fire-and-brimstone Christmas service – but make it brief. Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary have investigated the connection between religion and economic growth, with two notable results. First, belief in heaven and hell is good for business, presumably because it generates trust and substitutes for expensive legal proceedings. Second, time spent in church is not time well spent: presumably you make some contacts but could more profitably seek them elsewhere. To ensure successful offspring, send them to a church that instills the fear of God into them without demanding too much face time. Shop around.

Establish firm property rights over the TV remote. I can’t stress this one too much. Ronald Coase taught us that disputes over shared resources can always be resolved, provided the costs of negotiation are low and property rights are clearly established. Arguments only happen because it’s not clear who has the right to name the channel. Therefore, somebody must be given the control of the TV remote and should auction off the right to choose the channel to the highest bidder, perhaps in half-hour slots. It doesn’t matter much who the owner of the remote is – the choice of programming should be the same. Still, in our household I’ve always been in favor of giving the job to the paterfamilias.

Further advice to follow tomorrow.


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