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Monday, December 9, 2019

Where else can you get a 500% return on your investment?

The IRS Deserves Cheers, Not Jeers
By Gerald E. Scorse, Progressive Charlestown guest columnist
  
Image result for irs return on investmentAmerica's Internal Revenue Service (IRS) struggles every day with an infernal problem. It’s expected to separate taxpayers from their hard-earned money and leave them feeling well-treated at the same time. 

They don’t feel well-treated, far from it. According to the 2019 report to Congress by the National Taxpayer Advocate, “The current state of IRS customer experience lags far behind other government agencies and the private sector.”

But the IRS doesn’t lag behind when it comes to return on investment, or ROI. 

That’s the standard measure of “bang for the buck”—in this case how many dollars the Treasury takes in for each dollar spent on enforcement.

By that yardstick the IRS is up in the sky with Lucy. It might be flying even higher if Republican lawmakers hadn’t meat-axed its funding.

Treasury figures put the agency’s ROI at roughly $5 for each $1—a return of 400 percent.

A report from the Government Accountability Office cites even higher enforcement returns, from $11 to $13 for each $1.

In late 2018, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) evaluated the IRS as a way to reduce the deficit. By the CBO’s calculations, increases in the agency’s budget could cut federal red ink by $35 billion over the decade 2019 - 2028.

ROI dollars made not a dime’s difference to the GOP, which sent Congress off on an IRS budget-slashing spree. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) remembers it fondly: “I know that when we were in the majority [from 2010 – 2018]…we took great pleasure in cutting the amount of money that was going to the IRS every year.”

The cuts also warmed the hearts of tax cheats and potential cheats. With enforcement funds gutted, audits have become far less likely.

Threatened?

No photo description available.

Trump logic, continued

Image may contain: 2 people, child and text

Are you a cat whisperer?

Cats' faces hard to read
University of Guelph

Photo by Will Collette
Cats have a reputation for being hard to read, but new research from the University of Guelph has found that some people are veritable "cat whisperers" who excel at deciphering subtle differences in cats' faces that reveal mood.

Women and those with veterinary experience were particularly good at recognizing cats' expressions -- even those who reported they didn't feel a strong attachment to cats, the large study found.

"The ability to read animals' facial expressions is critical to welfare assessment. Our finding that some people are outstanding at reading these subtle clues suggests it's a skill more people can be trained to do," said Prof. Lee Niel, who led the study with Prof. Georgia Mason, both from U of G's Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare.


For this job, I would have held out for more money

URI scientist awarded $2.2 million grant to investigate mouth bacteria
Image result for gingivitis
Gingivitis (Wikipedia)
Matthew Ramsey studies bacteria in the human mouth, but he sounds like a wildlife biologist. He compares important bacteria to oak trees around which the forest is organized, and he discusses the places where oral bacteria live as if they were habitat in a rain forest.


His analogies help his students at the University of Rhode Island understand what he calls the Microbiome Revolution and all of the good and bad bacteria that live on and in the human body. And his underlying message is clear: Poor oral health is one of the best predictors of heart disease later in life.

“If you’re always having gingivitis, or if you’ve had more than one periodontal infection, then your risk for heart disease is really high,” said Ramsey, URI assistant professor of cell and molecular biology. “And you’re much more likely to develop periodontal infections or have heart disease if you have type 2 diabetes.”

Could this be Trump’s orange makeup?

A long, confusing beauty mystery.

Image result for orange trumpThis week, The Washington Post published a story about the experience of undocumented workers employed by the Trump Organization, both before and during his run for the presidency. It’s full of anecdotes of hypocrisy and raises important questions about immigration and underpaid labor.

But buried many paragraphs into the narrative is a section detailing Trump’s unusually specific habits and requests, like requiring exactly 2.5 boxes of Tic Tacs in his bedroom at all times.

Then came this sentence: “The same rule applied to the Bronx Colors-brand face makeup from Switzerland that Trump slathered on — two full containers, one half full — even if it meant the housekeepers had to regularly bring new shirts from the pro shop because of the rust-colored stains on the collars.”


Sunday, December 8, 2019

Climate Activists Strike

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

About 500 protesters joined the Dec. 6 Climate Strike in Providence. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News photos)

Gov. Gina Raimondo may not have signed on to the Green New Deal or the pledge to stop accepting contributions linked to fossil fuels, but the latest climate strike brought another large turnout of students who upped their level of activism, leading to more than a dozen arrests.

After the Dec. 6 rally and march through downtown, some 500 protesters organized by the Providence chapter of the Sunrise Movement and Climate Action RI staged a rally at the Statehouse, with more than 40 activists holding a sit-in in the rotunda. 

The activists stayed until after the Statehouse closed. Capitol Police eventually arrested 14 of the protesters later that evening for refusing to leave.

Sunrise Movement activists occupied the Statehouse rotunda prior to their arrests.
Sunrise Movement activists occupied the Statehouse rotunda prior to their arrests.


Nothing is true


For more cartoons by Tom Tomorrow, CLICK HERE.

VIDEO: Moscow Mitch has got to go

Ecoanxiety. Ecoparalysis. Solastalgia

One of the most overlooked consequences of climate change? Our mental health

Image result for climate refugees
United Nations photo
Hardly a day goes by where we aren't reminded that the Earth's climate is changing and that we are responsible for much if not most of that change.

The findings of one study after another are punctuated by breaking news or the direct experience of wildfires, hurricanes and floods that forced thousands of people to evacuate, damage property, and erase tangible reminders of our past.

More ubiquitous, but less publicized, are the millions of people who are exposed to heat waves, long-term droughts, rising sea levels, and eroding coastlines, forcing them to move elsewhere or spend large sums of money building communities that are habitable.

We respond to such news and events in a variety of ways. Some of us sink into deep despair or simply resign ourselves to the inevitability of global climate change. Some of us live with the trauma of having survived life-threatening extreme weather events. 

Some of us actively avoid the reality of climate change or spend considerable psychic energy denying that it is happening or, at the very least, denying our responsibility for its happening.

Each of these responses represent a challenge to our mental health. For instance, people exposed to life-threatening extreme weather events are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety.

People exposed to prolonged heat waves are more likely to make poor decisions that place them at risk for death or severe injury. 

People exposed to long-term drought are more likely to experience depression, interpersonal violence and thoughts of suicide. 

People exposed to sea level rise and coastal erosion are more likely to experience anxiety and interpersonal conflict with others in their community.

However, these mental health challenges are perhaps the most overlooked consequences of climate change.


Sorry, but this does NOT mean beer is good for diabetics

Hops compounds help with metabolic syndrome while reducing microbiome diversity
Oregon State University

announces last call GIFCompounds from hops may combat metabolic syndrome by changing the gut microbiome and altering the metabolism of acids produced in the liver, new research at Oregon State University suggests.

The findings, published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, are a key advance in understanding how xanthohumol, a compound that contributes to hops' flavor, and its derivatives work. 

That is an important step toward improving the lives of the estimated 35% of U.S. adults who suffer from metabolic syndrome.

The study builds on earlier research at OSU that found xanthohumol, often abbreviated to XN, and two hydrogenated derivatives, DXN and TXN, can likely improve cognitive and other functions in people with the syndrome.

People are considered to have metabolic syndrome if they have at least two of the following conditions: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low levels of "good" cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides.


"The Chosen One?"

Rick Perry's belief that Trump was chosen by God is shared by many in a fast-growing Christian movement
Brad Christerson, Biola University and Richard Flory, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Image result for Trump the chosen oneIn a recent interview with Fox News, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry stated that Donald Trump was chosen by God to be president. 

He said throughout history God had picked “imperfect people” such as King David or Solomon to lead their people.

Perry is not alone. 

A large number of evangelical Christians in the U.S. believe that God has chosen Donald Trump to advance the kingdom of God on Earth. 

Several high-profile religious leaders have made similar claims, often comparing Trump to King Cyrus who was asked by God to rescue the nation of Israel from exile in Babylon.

Many of these Christians are part of a movement that we call “Independent Network Charismatic,” or “INC Christianity” in our 2017 book.

Leaders such Rick Perry are connected to this movement. Eight years ago – in August of 2011 – more than 30,000 people cheered wildly when Perry, who was then a U.S. presidential candidate and Texas governor, came center stage at “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis” at Reliant Stadium in Houston. 

Perry quoted from the Bible and preached about the need for salvation that comes from Jesus. Many of the leaders who organized this event are the same leaders who claim that Trump is God’s chosen to advance the Kingdom of God.

We argue that INC Christianity is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and the nation’s politics.


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Kids want the right to learn

Federal Judge holds first hearing in student lawsuit against State of Rhode Island
By Julia Rock in UpRiseRI

Image result for education is a right not a privilegeUnited States District Court Judge William E. Smith held a hearing on the State of Rhode Island’s motion to dismiss Cook (A.C.) v Raimondo on December 5, giving the lawyers for both sides the opportunity to make statements and answer questions about whether the case should move forward to the trial phase. 

The class-action lawsuit alleges that the state’s failure to provide students with an adequate civics education violates their federal constitutional rights.

Columbia professor and lawyer Michael Rebell filed the lawsuit in federal court last November, along with the Rhode Island Center for Justice, on behalf of all public school students in the state of Rhode Island. The defendants––the Rhode Island Department of Education, Governor Gina Raimondo, the General Assembly leadership, and the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education––filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in March.
What concerned me was that the lawyers who work for the Rhode Island Department of Education were saying that education is not a right, and they kept repeating it,” said Symone Burrell, a 19-year-old now attending CCRI. “It’s kind of scary that people responsible for running our education believe that.

What smell?

No photo description available.

Buy RI Bonds

Image

How Rhode Island's plant life has changed

By TODD McLEISH/ecoRI News contributor

Rebecca Kartzinel, director of the Brown University Herbarium, examines a plant specimen collected more than 100 years ago. (Todd McLeish/ecoRI News)
Rebecca Kartzinel, director of the Brown University Herbarium,
examines a plant specimen collected more than 100 years ago.
(Todd McLeish/ecoRI News)
The herbarium at Brown University has been a repository of plant specimens from throughout southern New England and around the world since it was established 150 years ago. 

It maintains what director Rebecca Kartzinel called “the physical record of a species in a particular place” — pressed leaves, flowers, stems, and sometimes roots with detailed notes about where and when collected.

Among the 100,000 specimens stored in folders in climate-controlled and insect-proof cabinets are samples from the early explorations of the American West, as well as from Cuba, New Zealand, New Guinea, and elsewhere.

The overwhelming majority of the 14,000 plant specimens from Rhode Island were collected more than a century ago. 

A great deal of the Rhode Island landscape has changed since then, due largely to the climate crisis, invasive species, and habitat destruction. Kartzinel is leading an effort to collect specimens of every plant now found in Rhode Island.

“We have a good representation of plants from 1870s Rhode Island, and we want to have a good representation of Rhode Island’s flora now,” said Kartzinel, a research professor in the Brown Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who took over the directorship of the herbarium last May. “That means we have to collect everything that grows in Rhode Island.


Eat beans

Eating Legumes Reduces Heart Disease Risks, Says New Review
By Science News Staff / Source

Dietary pulses with or without other legumes are associated with reduced cardiovascular disease incidence with low certainty and reduced coronary heart disease, hypertension, and obesity incidence with very low certainty.

“Cardiovascular disease is the world’s leading — and most expensive — cause of death, costing the United States nearly 1 billion dollars a day,” said co-author Dr. Hana Kahleova, from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine.

“This review shows that an inexpensive, accessible, and common pantry staple could help change that: beans.”

Dr. Kahleova and colleagues searched the PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and Cochrane databases through March 2019.

They included prospective cohort studies that assessed consumption of legumes on the risk for cardiometabolic diseases and related markers.

They found that those who consumed the most legumes reduced incidence rates for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and hypertension by as much as 10% when compared to those with the lowest intakes.

On TV, political ads are regulated

But online, anything goes
Ari Lightman, Carnegie Mellon University

Image result for stupid trump tweets

With the 2020 election just a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it’s important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the FCC, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.


Friday, December 6, 2019

House Democrats have passed nearly 400 bills. Trump and Republicans are ignoring them.

Legislative paralysis gripped Capitol Hill well before impeachment started.
Image result for moscow Mitch and Democratic legislationThere’s a pervasive sense of legislative paralysis gripping Capitol Hill. And it’s been there long before the impeachment inquiry began.

For months, President Donald Trump has fired off tweet missives accusing House Democrats of “getting nothing done in Congress,” and being consumed with impeachment.

Trump may want to look to the Republican-controlled Senate instead. Democrats in the House have been passing bills at a rapid clip; as of November 15, the House has passed nearly 400 bills, not including resolutions. 

But the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee estimates 80 percent of those bill have hit a snag in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is prioritizing confirming judges over passing bills.

Congress has passed just 70 bills into law this year. Granted, it still has one more year in its term, but the number pales in comparison to recent past sessions of Congress, which typically see anywhere from 300-500 bills passed in two years (and that is even a diminished number from the 700-800 bills passed in the 1970s and 1980s).

Ten of those 70 bills this year have been renaming federal post offices or Veterans Affairs facilities, and many others are related to appropriations or extending programs like the National Flood Insurance or the 9/11 victim compensation fund.

Crime is relative


For more cartoons by Matt Bors, CLICK HERE.

Don't tell the boss

Pic of the Moment

VIDEO: using robots to explore unseen parts of the ocean

URI is designing the future of deep-sea exploration

Despite great technological advances in ocean exploration over the last 30 years, the world’s most delicate deep-sea species largely remain a mystery.

There has been little development in instruments that can be used to identify and safely collect fragile undersea species. That’s about to change.

Brennan Phillips, University of Rhode Island assistant professor of ocean engineering, has made significant advancements in the field of soft robotic grippers that can be used to gently grasp these obscure creatures.


The last thing we need is demented mice

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil-Rich Diet Protects Mice from Multiple Forms of Dementia
By Science News Staff / Source

mice GIF“Extra-virgin olive oil has been a part of the human diet for a very long time and has many benefits for health, for reasons that we do not yet fully understand,” said Professor Domenico Praticò, director of the Alzheimer’s Center at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

“The realization that extra-virgin olive oil can protect the brain against different forms of dementia gives us an opportunity to learn more about the mechanisms through which it acts to support brain health.”

In a previous work using a mouse model in which animals were destined to develop Alzheimer’s disease, Professor Praticò and colleagues showed that extra-virgin olive oil supplied in the diet protected young mice from memory and learning impairment as they aged.

Most notably, when the researchers looked at brain tissue from mice fed extra-virgin olive oil, they did not see features typical of cognitive decline, particularly amyloid plaques — sticky proteins that gum up communication pathways between neurons in the brain. Rather, the animals’ brains looked normal.

The new study shows that the same is true in the case of mice engineered to develop tauopathy.
In these mice, normal tau protein turns defective and accumulates in the brain, forming harmful tau deposits, also called tangles. Tau deposits, similar to amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, block neuron communication and thereby impair thinking and memory, resulting in frontotemporal dementia.


Brown poll documents deep divisions

Poll reveals generational, political divides over economic outlook
Brown University

trump reveals GIFAre things looking up for America’s economy? Your answer probably depends on your age and political affiliation, a new poll shows.

The poll results, released on Monday, Dec. 2, by the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown University, show that Democrats and Republicans do not see eye to eye on the country’s economy or on the state of its government — and nor do young adults and seniors.

According to data from 1,000 responses to a 24-question survey, conducted via the web on Oct. 10 and 11, 77% of self-identified Republicans in the U.S. believe the economy is getting better, while just 14% of Democrats believe the same. And while 51% of adults age 65 or older were optimistic about the country’s economic future, only 31% of adults ages 18 to 29 thought things were improving.

Asked about the current state of the economy, just 28% of Democrats characterized it as “good,” compared to 85% of Republicans. And while nearly two-thirds of seniors thought the economy was doing well, only 41% of adults younger than 30 agreed.

“We saw evidence of deep partisan and age divides in our country in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and the results of this poll confirm those differences in opinion haven’t eased,” said Susan Moffitt, director of the Taubman Center. “If younger generations were to turn out to vote at higher rates than usual in the 2020 election, we could see changes in leadership.”

Poll respondents were also divided along partisan lines on what they perceive as the biggest problem facing the country today, Moffitt said. 

Nearly half of Democrats polled said they believe the problem is U.S. President Donald Trump, ahead of the economy, health care, education and eight other hot-button issues; Republicans, by contrast, said they believe the biggest problems are immigration (28%) and government corruption (21%).


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Shrinks warn Trump might do something catastrophic if impeached

350 Mental Health Professionals Warn Congress That Nuclear-Armed Trump 'A Threat to Safety of Our Nation'
Related imageA group of more than 350 health professionals—led by three preeminent psychiatrists—delivered a petition to the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday warning that President Donald Trump's allegedly deteriorating mental state could result in "catastrophic outcomes," including nuclear war, as the possibility of impeachment looms.

"We bear in mind that Donald Trump, as president, has the unfettered authority to launch nuclear weapons at any time for any reason," psychiatrists Bandy Lee, John Zinner, and Jerrold Post said in a statement accompanying the petition. 

"Short of this calamity, there are many other dangers he can pose by the use, fueled by rage, of his assumed absolute executive authority, and by the loyalists who serve him."

The trio of mental health professionals implored the Judiciary Committee to "take these danger signs seriously and to constrain his destructive impulses" as the impeachment inquiry moves forward.

As Common Dreams reported Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she has asked House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to prepare articles of impeachment against Trump.

"We have come to the conclusion that there is an ethical obligation to warn of the danger that President Trump poses. We believe that there is a possibility of our stumbling into a war," the statement reads. "Impeachment is the ultimate rebuke of a president, which President Trump has intensely feared, at least since the appointment of the special counsel."


The cases for and against impeachment

VIDEO: The real deal on Medicare for All


Hair dye and cancer

Permanent hair dye and straighteners may increase breast cancer risk
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

hair do GIF by Rachael Ray ShowScientists at the National Institutes of Health found that women who use permanent hair dye and chemical hair straighteners have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who don't use these products. 

The study published online Dec. 4 in the International Journal of Cancer and suggests that breast cancer risk increased with more frequent use of these chemical hair products.

Using data from 46,709 women in the Sister Study, researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling in the study were 9% more likely than women who didn't use hair dye to develop breast cancer. 

Among African American women, using permanent dyes every five to eight weeks or more was associated with a 60% increased risk of breast cancer as compared with an 8% increased risk for white women. The research team found little to no increase in breast cancer risk for semi-permanent or temporary dye use.


Do you have a problem?

How to tell if your digital addiction is ruining your life
Terri R. Kurtzberg, Rutgers University Newark


Some people fear we’re interacting more with our phones
at the expense of our loved ones. Ana Blazic Pavlovic/Shutterstock.com
The fear that digital distractions are ruining our lives and friendships is widespread.

To be sure, digital addiction is real. Consider the 2,600 times we touch our phones every day, our panic when we temporarily misplace a device, the experience of “phantom vibration syndrome” and how merely seeing a message alert can be as distracting as checking the message itself.

This can have real consequences. 

For example, other people do take it personally if you stop talking to them to answer a message. And taking a break from a task to look at your cell phone precludes deep thinking on whatever you were doing.

But this tells only part of the story. We need to also acknowledge that today’s technologies can make us more connected than ever before.

So how do we avoid the potential pitfalls while still reaping the benefits?


Magaziner wants Zuckerberg out

Says Facebook needs an independent board chair

For more cartoons by Mike Luckovich, CLICK HERE.
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, as part of the group of investors that led the 2019 shareholder proposal at Facebook seeking an independent board chairman, released its findings of proxy voting data, which reveals which mutual funds joined the supermajority (68 percent) of Facebook's outside shareholders who voted against management's opposition of an independent board chair. 

The proxy voting data is based on fund N-PX reports that were filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2019.

"We believe that Facebook's lack of independent board chair, along with inadequate board governance, has contributed to the mishandling of several ongoing controversies," said Treasurer Magaziner. 


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Do lockdown drills do any good?

Is it possible to prepare kids for a terrorist act without terrorizing them?


Drills can help people learn how to respond when an active shooter
situation arises, as recently occurred in Santa Clarita, Calif.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez 
School lockdown drills and exercises are controversial today, due in large part to some troubling examples making headlines.

Teachers in Monticello, Indiana, for example, were hurt when they got shot in the back with plastic pellets.

Students in Franklin, Ohio, were exposed to sounds of simulated gunfire.

Sometimes, role-playing kids and teens, covered in fake blood, are scattered throughout their schools – screaming.

Parents who fear that these experiences could be traumatizing their children are objecting and calling for schools to stop holding them. Rather than reduce the harm caused during mass shootings, they say, dramatic approaches cause harm by amplifying students’ fears about the danger of being shot at school.

This raises a good question I seek to answer through my research: Is it possible to be prepared without being scared?


Vote for Bloomberg?


For more cartoons by Ted Rall, CLICK HERE.

Dazzling lights in Mystic

Annual holiday celebration kicks off on Saturday

northern lights landscape GIF

This Saturday, December 7, Mystic Aquarium kicks off its biggest, brightest and most-anticipated holiday event yet. 

Inspired by the Arctic’s beauty and its mesmerizing natural light display, the aurora borealis, this one-of-a-kind holiday lights show will transform four-acres of the Aquarium’s outdoor space into a stunning winter destination.  

The Northern Lights grand opening, which will take place this Saturday, December 7, from 6:00pm to 9:00pm.


Caffeine is literally part of us

We love coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks so much, caffeine is literally in our blood
Oregon State University

Coffee Caffeine GIF by LookHUMANScientists at Oregon State University may have proven how much people love coffee, tea, chocolate, soda and energy drinks as they validated their new method for studying how different drugs interact in the body.

In conducting mass spectrometry research, Richard van Breemen and Luying Chen worked with various biomedical suppliers to purchase 18 batches of supposedly pure human blood serum pooled from multiple donors. Biomedical suppliers get their blood from blood banks, who pass along inventory that's nearing its expiration date.

All 18 batches tested positive for caffeine. Also, in many of the samples the researchers found traces of cough medicine and an anti-anxiety drug. 

The findings point to the potential for contaminated blood transfusions, and also suggest that blood used in research isn't necessarily pure.


The science of holiday gift-giving

How to pick the 'right' amount to spend on holiday gifts – according to an economist
Jay L. Zagorsky, Boston University


Last-minute shopping can be stressful.
Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com 
Gift giving is a big deal this time of year.

To find the “perfect” gift, Americans will spend about 15 hours shopping. Women will do about twice as much as men. And they’ll shell out about US$1 trillion on gifts.

While retailers relish the holiday shopping season as a time when consumers open their purses or wallets, for many consumers – especially those who do not like shopping – these days are filled with dread

They mark moments when shoppers clog malls, websites become overloaded and delivery trucks block streets. The entire process generates untold amounts of stress and anxiety.

One source of stress is just how much to spend on gifts. Spending too much can put you in financial distress. Spending too little may make you look cheap.

How do you decide what’s the “right” amount to spend on gifts?

As an economist, I study holidays and gift giving because a large fraction of retail shopping is driven by seasonal events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Super Saturday – also and more appropriately known as Panic Saturday – which is the last Saturday before Christmas.

‘Dead weight loss’


Gift giving is stressful because nobody wants to buy what they think is a perfect gift only to discover it is a dud.

The long lines of people returning items after the holidays seem evidence enough for that.

This has led some economists to argue there’s a “dead weight loss” to Christmas presents that “destroys” as much as a third of their actual value. A 2018 study estimated Americans spend $13 billion a year on unwanted gifts.

Other economists, however, have resisted this Scrooge-like view of gift giving and point to evidence that a present can actually have more value to the recipient than the price the giver paid. In other words, a gift, even when technically unwanted, could have more value simply because someone else bought it for you.

Setting a budget

disappointed let down GIF by America's Funniest Home VideosSo if you’re dead set on buying some gifts, how much should you budget for it?

Since gifting is a social act, it makes sense to consider how much other people typically spend.

There are a number of surveys run each year that ask people during the fall to estimate what they plan on spending for holiday gifts. 

The National Retail Federation’s annual survey of holiday spending estimates the typical American will spend $659 on gifts for family, friends and co-workers in 2019. 

On the high end, Gallup puts the average at $942, with more than a third of respondents expecting to spend over $1,000 on gifts.

But these figures aren’t that helpful for an individual since $659 means something different to someone making $40,000 a year versus $200,000.

That’s where the Consumer Expenditure Survey comes in. It’s a large survey run by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that tracks the spending habits of 12,000 to 15,000 families each year. The government uses the survey to determine the cost of living and inflation rates for the typical family.

The survey follows gift giving very precisely. It has categories for common holiday presents like electronics, books and clothes, as well as gifts that typically aren’t associated with the season such as housing and transportation.

After removing these non-holiday gifts, the typical U.S. family spends about 1% of its annual take-home pay on gifts. So whatever you earn, you could multiply it by 1% to get a figure that is in the ballpark of what the average American spends – but won’t break the bank.

Making the holidays memorable


season 8 episode 23 GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants
While calculating a gift budget is one way to take the stress out of how much to spend on gifts, my family has another: Only give gifts to children.

Adults get wrapped boxes filled with paper. After the real gifts are opened and the young children are safely moved out of the way, we crumple up the paper and throw it at each other in our annual paper fight.

That keeps the cost down while making the kids feel special. It also ensures the kids don’t feel left out when their friends talk about the gifts they received. Other families follow their own methods for controlling expenses, such as secret Santa gifts or by focusing attention more on togetherness than on the stuff received.

Whether you have a paper fight or follow another family tradition, my main message is that it doesn’t take very much money to make the winter holidays memorable.

[ Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day. ]The Conversation

Jay L. Zagorsky, Senior Lecturer, Questrom School of Business, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.