Mark Perry, channeling Steve Landsberg, channeling Joel Waldfogel, channeling Seinfeld, can't understand gifts; why don't we all just give cash?
Dear God, does this need explaining again? The cute point--the point only an economist could love--is that the donee, almost by definition, knows his own wants better than anyone else, and so the best the donor can hope for is to get the ball back to the line of scrimmage.* True, true, true. But the point of the gift is not to accomplish the donee's wants. Rather the focus is on the donor. The gift tests the empathy, attentiveness, general acuity, not to say commitment, of the donor. So this is one contest where "close" really does win the cigar. If the donee dreamt of taable mats and the donor gives her doilees, the donee may be a little crestfallen, but she can say, "how thoughtful of him to try." If he gives 12-guage shotgun shells, she is bound to conclude "I really don't think he was listening." If he gives cash, the donee can infer that he is saying: "I really don't give a rat's ass what you do with your life; here, solve your own problem."
Sheesh, is that so hard to understand? So give it a try. You'll get it wrong but you may get an A for effort. Unless you are an economist.
Updatae: Ignoto recalls to mind Woody Allen on mastrubation: hey, it's sex with someone you love.
*It is suggested to me that once in a while the donor gives the donee something he didn't know he wanted until he got it. Point taken, although I suspect it's pretty rate and in any event it doesn't deflect the thrust of the argument.