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Holiday Tipping Etiquette December 14, 2012

Posted by federalist in Markets, Uncategorized.
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This has become the time of year when all sorts of service employees become very interested in you knowing their names and addresses (often post office boxes!). Notes and envelopes appear from garbagemen, mailmen, paperboys — people you may never see. And it’s no subtle mystery why: They want holiday tips.

In many cases this has become a soft extortion racket: Pay up and you’ll get your paper on your doorstep. Come up short and look forward to picking through bushes for your paper.

Too cynical? Maybe some of these servicemen assume that of course you’re thinking of them during the holidays, and they just want to save you the trouble of waiting outside early in the morning to hand them a bonus check and wish them a Happy New Year.

But isn’t this a recent phenomenon? I don’t remember getting these sorts of holiday notices ten or twenty years ago. I do remember when I ran a paper route as a boy being surprised at the extra cash appearing in my collection envelopes during December.

I guess it was inevitable that spontaneous generosity would evolve into a custom and finally an entitlement. I have been surprised in recent years to read etiquette experts enumerating all sorts of people you should tip — as if money trees sprout in December and every gainfully employed person deserves a windfall.

There may still be some who feel moved by the holiday spirit to share their good fortune with others, but it should be neither expected nor solicited. We are plagued by an entitlement culture, and to cure that I like a suggestion Alex Tabarrok made several years ago: If you would like to express some seasonal generosity remit your tip anonymously. That will foil those who are using the holidays as an excuse for extortion, since they won’t know for sure who “paid up” and who didn’t.

Meanwhile, we need to re-normalize expectations. Here’s my tip: If you have a job now be grateful if you get to keep it in the New Year.

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