Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mad Money

Today Teddy and I had an interesting discussion regarding economics. We were meeting some ladies for a movie, and we purchased the tickets a few hours early against the chance that the movie would sell out. To buy my ticket, I used a gift card I had received for my birthday earlier this month.

Roughly half an hour later, I realized how tired I was from New Year's Eve the night before; I had stayed out much later than I normally do. Since the movie, Django Unchained, was almost three hours long, and wasn't due to start until around 7PM, I figured I'd probably fall asleep in the theater and miss the last third of the movie at the very least. We happened to be driving near the theater a little bit after we bought the tickets, and I decided I'd go and return my ticket for a refund. Over Teddy's incessant, profanity-laced objections (and my own regret at missing a good flick with some pretty gals), I exchanged my ticket for a refund of ten dollars cash.

As we were leaving the theater, Tedward pointed out, "Well, at least you have real money now, instead of movie theater money."

"I think it's the same thing," I said.

"No," Teddy said. "Now you have cash you can spend anywhere, as opposed to a gift card you can only spend at the movie theater."

"Right," I said. "But the gift card acts as cash at the movie theater, thereby freeing up ten dollars of my 'real' money to be spent somewhere else. So in effect, the gift card is as good as cash money, insofar as it allows me to spend ten dollars somewhere else that I would not have been able to spend without the gift card."

Needless to say, this debate went on and on, punctuated by plenty of foul expletives and vulgar oaths. Teddy asked me which I would prefer: a $10,000 gift card to the movies, or $10,000 in cash. I conceded that I would prefer the cash for convenience's sake, but noted that a $10,000 gift card would mean I'd probably be able to afford to go to the movie theater forever; I could allot $10,000 worth of spending power towards the movies for the rest of my life, bring lots of friends to the movies as well, and my bank account wouldn't be touched. And I'd likely go to the movies a lot more with $10,000 worth of movie money, which would create an entertainment value that would have previously not existed---thereby increasing the sum total of my life's pleasure, and not costing me a dime. It's a win-win on that front. So it seems to me incorrect to argue that a gift card is not the same thing as cash.

At the very least it seems correct to say that a gift card is so functionally close to cash that it's useless to try and draw distinctions. Perhaps it would be different if the gift card were tied to a worthless commodity---if you could only use your gift card to pay for staring at a brick wall, for instance. But movies are not brick walls; they contain value, which means they cost money. Ergo it seems as if a gift card for a movie theater is de facto cash, and that in the grand scheme of things it's incorrect to try and argue otherwise. I could be wrong about this, but it seems right. Teddy probably still disagrees, but I think he's at the movie right now, so I can't ask him.

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