June 11, 2007

The Economics of Gift Cards and Irrationality

Filed under: Books,Market,Observations,Public Choice — admin @ 6:56 pm

This is Josh Hendrickson commenting on Jennifer Pate Offenberg’s article about gift cards in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Essentially, this welfare loss arises from the stigma of giving cash. I have always been fascinated with the fact that giving cash is viewed as inappropriate, yet gift cards are somehow more acceptable. The gift card, as Offenberg points out, is simply a cash gift with a restriction on where the gift can be spent.

An explanation of the aforementioned observation occurred to me while currently reading “The Myth of the Rational Voter” by Bryan Caplan. Caplan explains that voters are more willing to make irrational decisions as the cost incurred from the decision decrease. Because voters face practically no cost for believing whatever makes them feel good (rational or not) they are more likely to pick bad policies.

Possibly gift cards are way of gifting the the psychological benefit of irrationality to recipients. Here, enjoy some extra coffee or a book from Borders that you would not normally buy because you act rationally in the market. In addition, the restrictions ensure that the gift card cannot be spent on something more useful (e.g. gas for the car).

Read more:
The Economics of Gift Cards ┬ź The Everyday Economist

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