Gifts And Consumer Durables: A Meditation With Adam Smith

Of course, there's no need to be inflexible here: the holidays (and life in general) are broad enough to encompass many types of consumption, from immediate pleasures to the long-lasting. But even when it comes to holiday consumption, the tradeoffs over time interest me. The young adults in my family, aided and abetted by their mother, sometimes spend an afternoon looking through the clothes, furniture, and household goods available in second-hand stores. Like most people, we live in a "used" house, in the sense that we bought it from someone else several decades after it was built.

A few years back, we gave my parents a starter set of high-end pots and pans. They had been using the same set of pots and pans for decades: they were worn and dented and some of the lids were missing. The price was similar to taking the entire family out to dinner at a high-end restaurant for one night. But they have now used the pots and pans multiple times each week for years. I find myself wondering about what other decisions might be less flashy in the present, but would offer future smiles for their continued place in my day-to-day life.

 I fully intend during the holidays to enjoy the short-term pleasures of decorations, our annual homemade fudge and cookies, a family get-together for binge-watching something yet-to-be-determined, and so on. But after a stay-at-home year, I find that my thoughts of gifts often turn to making commitments about future plans or trips: that is, short-term consumption, but deferred into a less constrained future. 

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