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The economist as Grinch

December 7th, 2015

The Economic Society of Australia has started running a panel in which economists are asked to give their views on policy questions. I wasn’t too happy with the last one, on penalty rates, where I thought the question was ill-posed, and the majority of responses (though by no means all of them) failed to address the basic microeconomics of the issue.

The latest is a more light-hearted one, asking for responses to the proposition

“Giving specific presents as holiday gifts is inefficient, because recipients could satisfy their preferences much better with cash.”

Rather than give an opinion, I took the argument to its logical conclusion, as follows

The obvious problem with this claim is that exchanging cash is also inefficient, especially when combined with the generally accepted norm that equals should give presents of equal value. This results in a costly exercise that nets out to zero. Anyone who accepts the stated proposition shoud be in favor of cancelling Xmas and relying on the existing intra-family tax-transfer system

  1. Historyintime
    December 7th, 2015 at 15:02 | #1

    John, Despite your answer on penalty rates, I bet you tell your students to answer the question, not fight it!!

  2. GrueBleen
    December 7th, 2015 at 15:30 | #2

    Well ProfQ, you could always subscribe to the ‘potlatch’ practice where rounds of increasing gift value ultimately ends in mutual bankruptcy.

    There’s a certain appeal to that.

  3. Dan
    December 7th, 2015 at 15:52 | #3

    @GrueBleen

    Ah, you’ve met my ex.

  4. Ikonoclast
    December 7th, 2015 at 20:53 | #4

    I agree. Let’s cancel Xmas. It is worthless and meaningless. Indeed, Xmas has a negative net worth for society. It is fake. It was wasteful. Christmas lights mean more CO2 emissions. This is not is sarcasm BTW. I really do dislike and disdain Xmas. It’s a lot of bother for an inadequate fun return. But in an effort to not hurt feelings of kith and kin, I go along with it. I actually like ham off the bone so why do I wait for Xmas to eat it? Seems silly. I could eat it anytime.

  5. Ivor
    December 7th, 2015 at 21:31 | #5

    There was a typo in Economic Society’s question.

    It should have read:

    Cutting wages will always lead to more employment and greater availability of services in these industries.

    Maybe they should have sought agreement to:

    Cutting wages decreases consumer demand

    or maybe

    capitalists respond to decreased demand by cutting jobs

  6. Tim Macknay
    December 7th, 2015 at 22:34 | #6

    @Ikonoclast
    The Ikonoclast as grinch?

  7. jrkrideau
    December 7th, 2015 at 23:20 | #7

    @Ikonoclast
    Christmas lights mean more CO2 emissions
    Not to mention power brownouts or the threat of blackouts in extreme cases. 🙂 See Ottawa in really cold weather.

    On the other hand, a potlatch seems like an antidote to the 1% problem.

  8. BilB
    December 8th, 2015 at 03:03 | #8

    That the question was put demonstrates that women are under represented in the field of economics.

  9. Hugo André
    December 8th, 2015 at 03:34 | #9

    Being a grinch (someone who opposes gift giving at x-mas) I think I can give a decent answer to this.

    As you say, cash exchanges are also inefficient (though probably much less so than gifts) which is why I think we should stop exchanging stuff completely and just enjoy a sumptuous meal and create a nice atmosphere with the x-mas tree and Donald Duck (which we watch during x-mas here in Sweden).

    To pre-empt some of the objections: yes of course I realize that a true cost-benefit calculation would need to be more complicated than that.

  10. Ikonoclast
    December 8th, 2015 at 07:18 | #10

    The correct name of this season is Capitalmas. It’s an intensification of the destruction of the environment by an exploitative, manipulative and maladaptive economic system.

  11. Ernestine Gross
    December 8th, 2015 at 08:28 | #11

    “Giving specific presents as holiday gifts is inefficient, because recipients could satisfy their preferences much better with cash.”

    Never heard of a ‘holiday gift’.

    Suppose I interpret the expression ‘holiday gift’ as a gift person A receives from person B upon B’s return from a holiday in a place where A has never been and does not see a possibility of ever getting there. The gift (thing) is unique to the location where B had been and it is not traded via the internet. (I can think of many such things). Person A likes to learn about things.

    Suppose I interpret the expression ‘holiday gift’ as a thing, which person A has produced during A’s holiday. Person A gives the ‘holiday product’ to person B. Person A has no spare ‘cash’. Person B is short of time but has a little bit of spare cash. Person B gives Person A a note of legal tender in a Christmas card.

    Every year there is a Christmas street party in the street where I live. Last year a neighbour of Punjabi origin brought a home made dish, using a Punjabi recipie. This lady has expanded my experience of food. I liked it a lot. This dish was not even in my set of possible consumptions on which my preferences had been defined prior to her bringing the gift to the Christmas party. My neighbour expanded my set of possible consumptions, technically speaking.

    I recall a subject, named Economic Anthropology, offered in year 3 in the then School of Social Sciences many years ago at a university where I did my undergraduate degree in the School of Economics and Financial Studies. I took this subject as an elective. The course was very interesting. One of the topics was on the origin of money. There are some scholars in Economic Anthropology who ascribe the origin of money to gift giving. (What is money and how ‘cash’ fits into it is a subject of interest to me.)

    Lets not reduce real life to first year undergraduate economics textbooks and lets not reduce the learning space in a multicultural society by means of pretend culturally neutral language such as ‘holiday gift’.

    My technical answer as an economist to the question is: ‘Can’t say’. (There is not enough information in the question to allow deducing a unique answer.)

  12. Tim Macknay
    December 8th, 2015 at 11:18 | #12

    @Hugo André

    Being a grinch (someone who opposes gift giving at x-mas) I think I can give a decent answer to this.

    No. The Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season. If you’re in favour of feasting and Christmas trees, you’re no grinch. The underlying point was that he objected to the fact that other people were enjoying themselves.

    The correct name of this season is Capitalmas. It’s an intensification of the destruction of the environment by an exploitative, manipulative and maladaptive economic system.

    Although the Christmas tradition of gift-giving predates Capitalism, and also Christianity, for that matter. It has its origins in the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Pliny the Younger, who was probably the original grinch, had a sound-proof room built in his villa so he didn’t have to listen to the Saturnalia revellers.

    But seriously, if resource consumption is the basis of the objection, one should object to all festivals and celebrations that involve the consumption of resources on that basis. But of course, that’s not the real reason for grinchy-ness (grinch-ism?).

  13. Luke Elford
    December 8th, 2015 at 13:39 | #13

    Even Jack Donaghy, the Reagan-loving character from the TV show 30 Rock, gets that the point of gift-giving is to demonstrate an interest in the desires, thoughts and feelings of friends and family members, because people like it when others show an interest, even if the gift giver can never know them as well as they know themselves. For those towards whom such demonstrations aren’t necessary, the exchange of cash and voucher gifts is, at any rate, a well-established and socially acceptable practice.

    I wonder whether those economists who hold the dead-weight-loss-of-Christmas view operationalise it in their own lives.

    When they proposed to their wives [1], did they whip out their wallet and say, ‘Will you marry me? Here’s a few grand, honey—go get yourself a ring’?

    And on the anniversary: ‘I haven’t booked a restaurant, but there’re some takeaway menus by the phone. Your choice–my shout!’?

    And what kid wouldn’t want to have to wait until the stores open to have any new toys to play with at Christmas?

    [1] Judging by the last survey, the next survey will reveal the thoughts of around 42 men and six women.

  14. Julie Thomas
    December 8th, 2015 at 17:49 | #14

    Sheldon in Big Bang Theory explains what gift giving really is: “Penny you haven’t given me a gift; you’ve given me an obligation”

  15. Jason
    December 9th, 2015 at 18:34 | #15

    I thought you were going to say that xmas is the ultimate Keynesian stimulus – a general consensus to increase aggregate demand.

  16. Joe
    December 9th, 2015 at 20:55 | #16

    Ikonoclast, you must be great fun at parties. I’d love to hear your explanation excuses for the absolute disaster that is socialist Venezuela.

  17. Ivor
    December 9th, 2015 at 21:25 | #17

    @Joe

    luv to hear your excuses for the absolute disaster that is…

    Puerto Rica

    Spain

    Portugal

    Iceland

    Greece

    Ireland

    Columbia

    Detroit

    Jefferson County

    Orange County

    Stockton

    San Bernardino

    Go for it – kiddo ….

  18. Ivor
    December 9th, 2015 at 21:31 | #18

    What corrupt capitalists did to Venezuela

    Food shortages

  19. Ivor
    December 9th, 2015 at 22:10 | #19

    What corrupt capitalists did to Venezuela

    Coup

  20. paul walter
    December 10th, 2015 at 05:55 | #20

    My God, JQ, that was manna from heaven. I’ve read the comments, from Ernestine Gross trying to get the thing back to value and meaning through giving of self, through to Ikon and finally that little peach from Julie Thomas.

    I’d say that giving money doesn’t work most of the time, but if you know someone who is in financial difficulties and slip a big green one in, doing that may also fulfill the “humanity” condition for success that you have actually stopped long enough to think about the individual you are gifting, as this signifies you have them in your thoughts.

    I think someone drew attention to the idea that in thinking about others and obtaining a worthwhile gift for them can , in a strange way eventuate by some strange alchemy to a surprise gift to yourself and your own morale, a bit like Scrooge sending Bob Cratchit out with some coin out to bring back coal for a cold Xmas. Money had bought Rupert, eh Ebenezer, no lasting joy.

    Finally, when finally forced to look about him and face up to life as reality, when finally breaking clear of the icy grip of self and entitlement through experiencing a long suppressed concern for the other and urge for a more productive task than just meaningless accumulation, he gained consolation and relief also.
    …………………………..

    For my part, I will accept Prof.Quiggin’s last para as a gift and offer thanks and good wishes to himself and his for an exemplar of surpassing bleakness that restores my faith in economics and economists.

  21. Ikonoclast
    December 10th, 2015 at 06:16 | #21

    @Joe

    I’ve noticed that most people who think they are fun at parties are obnoxious drunks.

  22. Ikonoclast
    December 10th, 2015 at 06:35 | #22

    More generally on the topic of gifts, I’ve noticed that people make a big song and dance about getting gifts from the store (usually items of low practical utility) but ignore or take for granted the efforts of the person (house spouse, usually female) who gives them gifts every day in the form of prepared meals, cleaned house, cleaned clothes and so on. I say this as a sometime and now male house spouse who knows he has only done about 1/20th of what most women in our culture do in the home over their whole lives.

    What is it about our culture which leads to an over-valuation of one and a de-valuation of the other? Answer, it’s the capitalist value-system where only activities and things which earn money or cost money are accorded any value.

  23. December 10th, 2015 at 07:07 | #23

    @Jason

    If Christmas is when people starts spending for gifts to either friends, family or themselves, it’s usually because of two main reasons, one is that it is the cultural drive behind it and the second reason is that the most of the shops reduces their prices in during Christmas season.

    On the second reason, for shops to drop prices during seasons when demand is high is the antithesis to most economic theories, unless explained in the way that most shops increases their mark up in non-festival driven sales period to make up for the loss of marginal revenue due to cutting prices in festival driven sales period. All this does is shifting consumption from other periods to particular periods and does not, on a whole, increase aggregate demand when you observe it for a set period of time (i.e. a year). If shops do not drop prices in Christmas or other festival periods, they can* also lower prices for normal periods and therefore aggregate consumption will be smoother throughout the year. So, there is nothing Keynesian about Christmas.

    Note:
    * based on reasoning that shops no longer have to lower marginal revenue in Christmas sales, therefore do not need to increase mark up in non Christmas periods.

  24. Dave
    December 10th, 2015 at 16:49 | #24

  25. john
    December 11th, 2015 at 10:23 | #25

    Positive statement: Yes, giving specific presents as holiday gifts is obviously inefficient, given the usual definition of ‘efficient’ in economics.

    Value statement: We should stop giving holiday gifts. Values other than economic efficiency are important.

  26. john
    December 11th, 2015 at 10:25 | #26

    Ernestine #11: I assume that ‘holiday gift’ is meant to be a politically correct, religiously neutral euphemism for ‘Christmas present’.

  27. Julie Thomas
    December 11th, 2015 at 11:50 | #27

    @john

    Correct me if I am wrong but it seems obvious to me that ‘holiday gift’ is the way to talk about presents that non Christians (like Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses) give to their kids and maybe other people too, so they can participate in the “event” that the dominant society celebrates without creating too much cognitive dissonance when this participation violates their own religious requirements.

    Since it is too difficult to tell just by looking if a person belongs to one of these non Christian faiths, and if one doesn’t like to be inappropriate unnecessarily, the use of holiday present seems a reasonable way for a decent person to behave so that they fit in with and also help maintain, a decent society that understands the value of religious tolerance.

    What is your reasoning for the assumption that the term ‘Christmas present’ is the default term for gift giving at a certain time of year and that alternative terms are euphemism?

  28. Ernestine Gross
    December 11th, 2015 at 13:36 | #28

    @john

    “Positive statement: Yes, giving specific presents as holiday gifts is obviously inefficient, given the usual definition of ‘efficient’ in economics.”

    No. Perhaps it is the ‘usual definition of efficienty in economics’ for those who never go beyond (not the best) introductory economic texts.

  29. john
    December 11th, 2015 at 14:38 | #29

    @Julie Thomas
    Agree, apologies. I should have said something like ‘I assume that “holiday gift” is a religiously neutral alternative for what many people call “Christmas present”‘. ‘Euphemism’ is inappropriate here because of its negative connotations, although for some, (particularly linguists) it can be quite neutral – ‘a word that replaces another word to avoid causing embarrassment or giving offence’. Which is usually a good thing.

  30. Tim Macknay
    December 11th, 2015 at 15:49 | #30

    @Julie Thomas

    Correct me if I am wrong but it seems obvious to me that ‘holiday gift’ is the way to talk about presents that non Christians (like Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses) give to their kids and maybe other people too, so they can participate in the “event” that the dominant society celebrates without creating too much cognitive dissonance when this participation violates their own religious requirements.

    What makes it seem obvious? Why would someone who celebrates Christmas expect adherents of non-Christian religions to want to celebrate it too?

  31. sunshine
    December 11th, 2015 at 17:49 | #31

    Due to the unusual pressure currently on some of Australia’s minority faiths etc I fear it is now necessary to be extra vigilant as far as language goes. That doesnt seem very likely for the near future given the public ridicule of ‘politically correct’ talk. Our leaders are still setting a bad example, many still leaving space for racism – sometimes even encouraging it more openly. Australian racist groups were planning to celebrate the 10 th anniversary of the Cronulla riots in public today, the police were trying to stop it in court. These groups are just bigoted against everyone. Given their silence I cant help wondering if politicians would be quiet if Muslims were wanting to party in public on S11 one year. Asked about the planned racist public Cronulla commemoration on ABC radio today a relevant govt official [who is working on the legislation allowing the life imprisonment of people for simply thinking/talking about doing terrorist acts] replied ‘I’m not across the detail of that’. Its not a good look through Muslim eyes. Merry Christmas .

  32. Ikonoclast
    December 11th, 2015 at 20:42 | #32

    @Tim Macknay

    You said to Julie Thomas;

    “Why would someone who celebrates Christmas expect adherents of non-Christian religions to want to celebrate it too?”

    Well, don’t expect me to celebrate Xmas. I am a socialist humanist not a Christian.

    Given that many strong Christians inveigh against the modern excessively commercialised aspects of Christmas and the attendant waste and environmental damage, it seems that criticism of me (“he’s a grinch”) for doing the same thing is a bit odd.

    Finally, I was amused to notice that you respected Muslim difference but apparently not agnostic difference.

  33. December 12th, 2015 at 09:35 | #33

    Ikon you are being pedantic in treating xmas as solely a Christian festival. I’m sure that you know it incorporates earlier traditions around the midwinter solstice in the northern hemisphere https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

    To me as an environmentalist and anti-imperialist, the main problem with it is that people try to impose the Anglo-European elements unsuitably in the Australian context so you have these heavy cooked meals surrounded by pictures of snow, while outside the sun is shining. It’s lovely in England and Europe but all wrong here, where we should be having a festival for the summer solstice. In my family it is evolving that way, with lots of salads and summer fruits.

    Still, I can talk about the evils of imperialism and colonialism, but my mother was English. So I will try to save some room for the pudding that my sister always makes, and enjoy it as I did when we were children.

    It’s ironic that you reproach people for not appreciating the care that women provide in the domestic setting, yet xmas is above all a festival of the family, love and the domestic. Rather than letting the women of your family do most of the work of xmas (I bet you probably still do that?) and then ‘putting up with it’ why don’t you use it as an opportunity to show your love and appreciation, and enjoy it?

    In terms of the commercialisation and excess, as well as having a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit at our Xmas lunch, we have also moved to the Kris Kringle style of gifts where each adult gives a gift only to one other adult. It does encourage what Luke talked about above, where you can take the time to think carefully about another person, and since it is random, it may be someone you don’t always think about so much.

  34. December 12th, 2015 at 09:41 | #34

    In case my explanation about the gifts was confusing, I mean each adult gives a present to one other adult who has been randomly allocated to them. I don’t mean the whole process is random! (And everyone gives whatever they want to the kids).

  35. Ikonoclast
    December 12th, 2015 at 10:42 | #35

    @Val

    In general I am pedantic so “guilty as charged”. 🙂

    Now, as more proof that I am pedantic, I will mention that I did not treat Xmas solely as a Christian festival. That was fairly clear in some of my arguments against the modern Xmas: about it now being in essence “Capitalmas” and not Christmas anyway. As you surmise correctly, I am aware of some the history of Xmas, Yule, Saturnalia etc.

    With respect to “Rather than letting the women of your family do most of the work of xmas”. As the house spouse now, and for some years, I do most of the household chores and a significant proportion of the extra Xmas chores (I would say 50% of the latter) so your precise bet is not correct. But I deserve no medals. As I said way above in this thread, I have still in my entire life done only a minority percentage of that sort of work compared to most women.

    More interesting to me is the strange social pressure that surrounds Xmas. It amounts to the demand that a person like what other people like. It’s a demand for conformity. And I notice that many people who generally respect minority rights to be different suddenly change spots when it comes to Xmas and demand everyone like Xmas because they do and in the way they do. It’s really quite odd.

    I reserve my right to behave well at Xmas (I participate fairly in chores, I socialise adequately, I bite my tongue on my criticisms at actual social events, I don’t drink alcohol or take drugs). Yet I also reserve my right to firmly hold to the position that I do not like it, I find the bonhomie mostly false, I find the cultural aspects tacky, schmalzy and lacking in artistic merit, the presents mostly lack utility and I find the mountains of pointless waste obscene. Apart from not liking it, I also consider I have a cogent sociopolitical and economic case against it. But this post is already too long.

  36. December 12th, 2015 at 12:15 | #36

    Ikon do you therefore think you might like it if the bonhomie was real, the cultural aspects artistic and creative, the presents conveyed a sense that the givers had thought carefully about each other and given something meaningful (I think utility is a pretty bloody awful word anyway, but in this context it’s downright offensive) and the waste was minimised?

    I still suspect that your position (and that of some others on this thread) is in part a reflection of patriarchal ideology telling you that love and caring is woolly, second rate stuff, best left to the women

  37. BilB
    December 12th, 2015 at 13:12 | #37

    I restate my earlier comment in light of your suspicion, Val,

    “That the question was put demonstrates that women are under represented in the field of economics”

    ….., along with the environment, real people are minor players to widgets in economic philosophy.

  38. BilB
    December 12th, 2015 at 13:28 | #38

    I had an experience many years ago with the naming ceremony for my first daugther. We decided to hold this in a delightful little park in Christchurch called Woodford Park, near our home. So early in the morning I was tasked with driving around the city picking up tables and chairs in our little truck. While performing this painful effort I was wondering if this huge effort was actually worth it.

    Later that morning with everything in place our friends arrived at the park to the most beautifully fresh Autumn morning in this most picturesque park, and I quickly realised what it was all about. People friendships love and family. To cap it off the celebrant failed to turn up so my daughter’s God parents performed the ceremony impromptuly and perfectly.

    People first, widgets second.

  39. BilB
  40. December 12th, 2015 at 13:56 | #40

    Beautiful in every way BilB.

  41. Ikonoclast
    December 12th, 2015 at 15:44 | #41

    @Val

    Re “if the bonhomie was real, the cultural aspects artistic and creative, the presents conveyed a sense that the givers had thought carefully about each other and given something meaningful..”

    It would then bear no relation to the celebration formerly known as Christmas.

    Overall, you are simply expecting me to conform: to conform to your notions of caring and celebration. When I don’t conform you judge and reject in the sense that you imply that I don’t have an authentic way of caring because it doesn’t match yours.

    I am not a person for formalised celebrations, festivals and rituals. I find them hollow and meaningless. Existential terror is the clear source of personal and social ritual. Celebrations and festivals are outgrowths of such ritual.

    I treat every day the same. I don’t need a calendar of ritual and festival to structure my life. This doesn’t mean I don’t structure my days and years but I structure them around tasks, projects and leisure as both necessity (including social necessity) and wishes require.

    I hold that if people care every day there is no need for special days to show care. Such special and ostentatious shows of caring are, I believe, a process of compensating.

    There is nothing wrong with utility, as usefulness. The utility may be aesthetic as well as practical. Of course, there is much wrong with the way capitalist economics deals with utility.

  42. December 12th, 2015 at 22:53 | #42

    @Ikonoclast
    I don’t expect you to do anything, Ikon, you can do whatever you want. We just see things differently. You say that people use ritual to protect themselves from existential terror. I don’t really know what you mean by that. I have experienced some actual terror and tragedy in my life, and I don’t think I use celebrations to protect myself from that, I use them to appreciate what I have. It sounds like a cliche, perhaps, but maybe people do appreciate what they have more if they have some idea of what it might be like to lose it. I am not just talking about things and utility, I am talking about people and the natural world.

  43. December 13th, 2015 at 06:44 | #43

    Well talking about existential threats and existential terrors, the Paris talks have concluded with an agreement. As I’m sure everyone here knows, it’s only a start and it’s got to get better – the goal is to keep warming to 1.5C or less, but the current track is more like 3C – but at least it’s a start. The delegates look pretty happy http://www.theguardian.com/environment/live/2015/dec/12/paris-climate-talks-francois-hollande-to-join-summit-as-final-draft-published-live

    We need to keep the pressure on.

  44. Julie Thomas
    December 13th, 2015 at 07:09 | #44

    @Tim Macknay

    Sorry been busy grandmothering.

    It’s obvious to me perhaps because I was raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family – well my mother was but she left the church sometime after she married my father who thought that all religions were very bad things, but all of my mothers many siblings remained in the JW church and when we did do those family get togethers at what other people called Christmas time, the presents were called holiday presents – not gifts – gifts is an American term.

    I think that as atheists and my cousins as JW’s; we did want to fit in with the wider society that was being turned into an economy, and not feel too ‘alienated’ because we were not like everyone else and didn’t get presents at Christmas or birthdays like everyone else.

    Perhaps Christians expect everyone to celebrate Christmas because all majority group/religion expects all the other people in the group to ‘fit in’; it has to be easier that way to create group cohesion; and perhaps that has to be one of the rules of how human nature and culture work together.

  45. Ikonoclast
    December 13th, 2015 at 08:20 | #45

    I guess J.Q. will post a thread on COP21 soon.

    I have skimmed the agreement very rapidly so I could have missed the import of whole paragraphs. However, it seems toothless (non-binding) to me. I don’t see how it will make one scrap of difference. But then I am a very gloomy prognosticator and others might be able to see what I cannot.

    As an aside, I notice ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) under international trade agreements has extra-legal tribunals which can fine national governments millions and billions for not acting at the behest of corporations. However, the COP21 has nothing, that I can see at least, that could ever bind or induce any nation to do or pay anything. On that test, the TPTB are serious on the former issue and not the least serious on the second issue. Please show me I am wrong to think this.

  46. Ikonoclast
    December 13th, 2015 at 08:35 | #46

    Further to my post above, it seems sadly I am right.

    Oxfam Executive Director Helen Szoke said: “Only the vague promise of a new future climate funding target has been made, while the deal does not force countries to cut emissions fast enough to forestall a climate change catastrophe.”

    “It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just b******t for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continue to be burned,” – James Hansen.

  47. John Turner
    December 13th, 2015 at 18:54 | #47

    I guarantee there will be action when melting polar ice disrupts the Gulf Stream and plunges Europe into a new ice age. The last time this happened around 11000 years ago and lasted a 1000 years ;evidence from studying midges in sediment cores suggests it may have only taken as little as 10 to 20 years for the change to occur. Of course action at that point will be a futile exercise.

  48. Ikonoclast
    December 13th, 2015 at 19:21 | #48

    @John Turner

    And not just Europe. I assume North America would be affected too. I’d be interested if you know any good links to articles suggesting how this would manifest in the first 20 years or so. I imagine deep and long winters would prevail. Spring and summer would probably disappear in the sense that there would be no thaw between calendar winters. The snow pack would build and build. How long would it be until it became a glacier “shield” I wonder? Perhaps that would take 100s of years or more.

    It wouldn’t matter anyway. Nothing much could happen once 12 month winters set in. Europeans would run for Africa and North Americans would run for Mexico and South America. I imagine Russia and China would suffer too. Chinese would rapidly push south to S.E. Asia. displacing S.E. Asians in turn into Australia. Assuming a world population of 8 billion when this happens (if it did), it’s hard to see more than 1 billion surviving after 20 years… at best.

  49. Tim Macknay
    December 14th, 2015 at 12:03 | #49

    @Ikonoclast

    Given that many strong Christians inveigh against the modern excessively commercialised aspects of Christmas and the attendant waste and environmental damage, it seems that criticism of me (“he’s a grinch”) for doing the same thing is a bit odd.

    You said “let’s cancel Xmas. It’s worthless and meaningless”. And now you’re complaining because I (jokingly) called you a grinch, on a thread about grinchy-ness? I think you protest too much!

    Finally, I was amused to notice that you respected Muslim difference but apparently not agnostic difference.

    Nope. That’s you making an unwarranted assumption again. Julie’s comment cited the specific examples of Jews and Jehovah’s witnesses, so I was trying to get my head around the concept that some adherents to non-Christian religions (like Jews, Muslims or Buddhists) would actually want to participate in a Christian custom in order to ‘fit in’. However it now turns out that Julie was actually talking about post-Christians (i.e. people raised in a Christian tradition or culture but who longer have religious beliefs), or atheists living in Christian families, not about the adherents of non-Christian religions. it’s more understandable to me how the latter groups would want to participate in Christmas gift-giving (I’m one of them, after all).

    I wondered why Julie thought it was obvious, because my own intuition headed in a different direction, i.e. that a religiously tolerant society should not expect non-Christians to participate in a custom that is overtly connected to Christianity. It seemed to me that, given that non-Christians (including atheists) who participate in Christmas gift-giving will be well aware that the custom is associated with Christianity, the proposal to pretend that it isn’t would be rather patronising. That’s all.

  50. Tim Macknay
    December 14th, 2015 at 12:06 | #50

    @Julie Thomas

    Sorry been busy grandmothering.

    No problem. I was physically remote from electronic forms of communication all weekend. 🙂

  51. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 13:09 | #51

    @Tim Macknay

    Okay fair enough. I probably do protest too much.

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