This observation by Bill Mei seems accurate to me:
Imagine your friend texts you with the following invite:
I’m taking you and 12 friends out to dinner at Olive Garden. I’m paying the check. Wanna come?
To me this feels… tacky? Like I feel obligated to at least offer to cover part of the check right?
Okay, how about this:
I’m throwing a dinner party for you and 12 friends at my house. I’m making all the food. Wanna come?
Now this suddenly feels more natural. It would even be socially unacceptable for me to offer to pay for my friend’s cooking!
I think it also applies to family. Where I live, having a spare room would cost $10,000 per year or more. But it seems more impolite to suggest renting a hotel room for a relative’s visit than having them stay in an spare bedroom, despite the spare bedroom being much more expensive.
Unfortunately, the only solution seems to be rich enough to afford assets you can share with your friends and family:
What wealth allows you to do is to buy things outright instead of renting them. It feels more authentic to allow your friends to access assets that you already own, like inviting them to your home, taking them out in your kayak, or driving them in your car. But paying for dinner, gifts, or activities feels like a direct wealth transfer, like you’re paying your friends.
Mei suggests buying gifts should be normalized, because it’s more generous than letting them access to assets you own. This is true, but I think the problem is that gifts come with an expectation of reciprocity, and this creates an imbalance when a wealthier friend provides lavish gifts that cannot be reciprocated. Letting a friend use your property also leads to an imbalance, but since there is no direct subsidy, I would guess the differential can be larger.