Surveying the holiday season from the vantage point of the dry science of economics, a Yale professor has calculated the "deadweight loss" of all those gifts recipients didn't like.

The figure may come to $4 billion a year of the estimated $40 billion spent annually on gifts, the professor, Joel Waldfogel, calculated in an article in the December issue of the American Economic Review.A deadweight loss, Waldfogel explained in a telephone interview, is the value lost between what the gift giver spent for an item - a glow-in-the-dark necktie, for example - and the value the recipient places on it.

Waldfogel's research dealt with two related issues: how inefficient the gift-exchanging mechanism is compared with giving cash ($25 from the giver is always worth $25 to the recipient) and who the worst gift givers are.

The deadweight loss in gift giving may range from 10 percent, or $4 billion, to as much as a third of the value of gifts given each year, he found.

And those most likely to give gifts with the most deadweight loss are the more extended members of extended families: grandparents, aunts and uncles. Waldfogel calculated that the closest family members were most likely to give gifts with the least deadweight loss.

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To those who want to be the most efficient gift givers, Waldfogel's research reinforces a maxim: Cash is best.

Waldfogel, a 31-year-old assistant professor of economics who has been at Yale since 1990, said he based his research on two surveys conducted among students in his undergraduate intermediate microeconomics courses, last January and March.

He said he decided to research gift giving because of "a couple of gifts over the years that, while well-intentioned, were not what I wanted." These included two cribbage boards, a game he does not play, an array of fuzzy slippers and several "perfectly horrible sweaters."

There is a down side to his research, Waldfogel admitted. "I'm afraid I may not get as many gifts," he said.

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