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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2010, 6:30 am

The Twelve Days of Capitalism

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

The price of eight maids-a-milking remained flat but lords-a-leaping experienced a surge in earning power.   (Image courtesy of PNC Financial Services Group)

While many Americans wonder how they're going to afford heat, food, and medicine this holiday season, one wealth management company asks a perrenially relevant question: Exactly how much would it cost to buy every single gift mentioned in the English carroll, The Twelve Days of Christmas?

According to PNC Wealth Management, the whole schmear from 1 partridge in a pear tree to twelve drummers drumming, will set you back $23,439, compared to just $21,465 in 2009. Of course, 12 Days Fundamentalists will insist on 12 partridges in pear trees, 22 turtle doves, 30 french hens, and so on. The whole package adds up to nearly $100,000.

This year, the Christmas Price Index (XPI) rose 9.2% over 2009 while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose just 1.1%.

How do the financial wizards at PNC figure all this out? It seems pretty straightforward to compute the price of a partridge and a pear tree ($161.99; +1.3%), or five golden rings ($649.95; +30%). But disturbingly, for literalists, every "gift" given after seven swans a swimming ($5,600.00; +6.7%) is a group of workers.

At the time the carrol was first published, circa 1780, bonded servitude was still a going concern. However, instead of putting a price on human life, PNC Wealth Management uses estimated hourly wages to compute the true value of Christmas.

The price of eight maids-a-milking remained flat at $58 (+0.0%), the price of paying eight people for one hour at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The price of milkmaids rose by over 10% in 2009 when the Democrats raised the federal minimum wage from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour.

Lords experienced much stronger income growth in 2010 than milkmaids. The cost of ten lords-a-leaping was $4,766.70 (+8.0%). Analysts suspect that the surge in lord earning power reflects neither a decrease in lord supply, nor an increase in lord demand. More likely, skyrocketing lord appearance fees are due to aggressive advocacy by the lord lobby.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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