Noblesse Oblige and Merit Based Gifts

November 21, 2007

This year, Diwali was not as renumerative as it used to be. This is because I am now a grossly overpaid MBA (who is also no longer forking half his salary over to a Parsi thatha in Malabar Hill as paying guest charges) and noblesse oblige demands that:

  1. I no longer accept gifts from grandmothers with no independent income.
  2. I no longer rely on my parents to finance Bhai Dooj chanda for my sisters.

Conscience and noblesse oblige may not be neglected. Social traditions which promote the voluntary transfer of wealth from the earning and productive to the weak and unemployed encourage the spread of Edwardian values. Failure to carry on such traditions will lead to a society in which free exchange and taking responsibility for one’s property are abandoned, precipitating the collapse of enlightened civilisation. Thus, all cash which came in on Diwali went out equally rapidly to sisters two days later at Bhai Dooj.

However, I face a dilemma. I would rather cut down upon cash gifts to the sister who brought shame upon the clan by marrying into a family of uncultured barbarians who steal electricity and whose approach to religion is to feed goats. The cash saved could then be given to the sister who brought honour upon the clan by eloping. And yet, I shy away from making gifts on the basis of virtue, when tradition demands that sisters be given gifts of equal value. More so because deviating from established processes on the basis of arbitrary valuations of virtue violates Saivite tenets of adherence to eternal law.

However, in this as in most other things, Tyler Cowen provides a solution: merit based gifting. Instead of giving people gifts on occasions like birthdays or Christmas (or indeed, Bhai Dooj), give them gifts at random times based on how much you value them.

This is excellent. Tradition only specifies giving gifts of equal value at Bhai Dooj. But I can give merit based gifts throughout the rest of the year, at random occassions. Edwardian objectives of rewarding virtue can be achieved after all!

I think the best way to do this going ahead is to avoid Bhai Dooj gifts completely. However, since all the sisters have kids, give the kids gifts in proportion to their virtue. This is a good thing, because:

  1. Noblesse oblige is even more vital when it comes to being a rich uncle who can give gifts to children with no source of income whatsoever.
  2. Nephews and nieces whom I approve of (because they bugger off to a secluded room and engross themselves in Roald Dahl) can be rewarded with more Roald Dahl (or Phillip Pullman for that matter). Gifts to nieces who watch Shah Rukh Khan movies and nephews who bite can be cut back accordingly.
  3. Gifting to nephews and nieces is an investment, while gifting to sisters is merely an expense. Investment is more Edwardian than expense.

The virtue of nephews and nieces must therefore be tracked going forward.