The Gift Basket Economy

CULVER CITY, CA - OCTOBER 16: Gift baskets in the front row at the Christian Audigier Spring 2008 fashion show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week held at Smashbox Studios on October 16, 2007 in Culver City, California.

Photo by Marsaili McGrath/Getty Images for Christian Audigier

Today my office building had free coffee and bagels in the lobby from Panera Bread as part of “Tenant Appreciation Day.” At my last job, there was a similar once-a-year ice cream bash and my wife’s office building does roughly the same thing. But when you think about it, it seems inconceivable that the Washington Post Company is prepared to pay a premium rent to our landlord in recognition of the positive vibes that Slate employees receive for our free coffee on Tenant Appreciation Day. It seems like a total waste.

My guess is that there’s some kind of grift here. The people who make decisions about which coffee to buy on Tenant Appreciation Day can’t just dip into the profits of the landlording company and appropriate extra money for themselves. But they can dip into the surplus and allocate some of it to Panera Bread who whoever they got the holiday decorations from. And those vendors can kick a little bit back in the form of holiday gifts to the people who buy stuff from them. Thus a small amount of surplus is diffused in the highly inefficient form of stale coffee and fruit baskets rather than accruing to the owners of capital.