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Beware of Baracks bearing gifts

By Nigel Warburton   April 2009

The gift is never free, observed the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss. His point was that gifts—be they Christmas socks or a freshly killed goat—are always tied up with reciprocity, self-esteem and obligation.

Perhaps the unfortunate Gordon Brown had Mauss in mind when considering his recent offering to Barack Obama. Brown, the overeager suitor, out-spent and out-thought his American counterpart. His gift: a penholder made from timber from the anti-slavery sloop HMS Gannet, sister ship to HMS Resolute from which Obama’s Oval Office desk is carved. It was a present rich in moral and historical symbolism. Obama, in return, handed Brown…

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