passions10 - ml 6 Frank R.l-l(1988 Passions Within Reason...

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Unformatted text preview: ml? 6 Frank, R.l-l. (1988). Passions Within Reason: 184 PASSIONS WITHIN REASON Wm. _ NY: Norton Nor will greater economic sophistication prevent a worker from T E N 1 choosing a wage cut in preference to a job in which the employer claims virtually all of the employment surplus. L O V E 0 Whether perceptions are accurate or not, it is clear from the evidence that concerns about fairness strongly affect people's behavior. Posnerians and others who insist that fairness has no content are talking about a world that does not exist. Many people believe selfless love is the motivating force behind intimate personal relationships. The worldly economist. however. takes a predictably less sentimental view. . In his landmark A Treatise on the Family, University of Chi- cago economist Gary Becker writes. "An efficient marriage market develops ‘shadow’ prices to guide participants to mar- riages that will maximize their expected well-being.”1 in Beck— er’s scheme, people with stable. well-defined preferences act in purposeful ways to choose mates that best promote their material interests. , The materialist view of human relationships is by no means ct'mfined to economists. On the contrary, it has become a hot import item in other social sciences. increasing numbers of psychologists, sociologists, political scientists. anthropolo- gists. and other behavioral scientists have begun to view inti- mate relationships as purposeful exchanges in which each party receives something of value. Sociologist Michael liannan. for example. writes that “Beck- er's stark economic conception of actions cuts through the romantic mist that so often blinds social scientists to the hard choices faced by families and their members.” Sociologists George Homans3 and Peter Blau“ penetrated that mist decades earlier, and their work on “exchange relationships" continues . to have wide influence among sociologists and social pyschol- ‘ ogists. Psychologist Harold Kelley, himself a pioneer of the “N? ' cost-benefit school,5 writes that a "person remains in [a] rela— Ck?) tionship as long as the pros outweigh the cons." Ellen Ber- 185 . ~4wmthflmeflmw ”no“ .wwarmwmmthm-Mwmmmwmwwww ww ‘mmflmsfizsIt'rwnim-WmiwstMWWXWmMam» . .. m... .. a , . limo if»? U.) 186 I’ASSIONS WITHIN REASON scheid, a leading psychologist in the field of interpersonal relations, writes that the degree of emotional involvement in a' relationship is a function of "facilitative interconnections" and “meshed interchain sequences.”7 And in a passage that could easily have been lifted from Adam Smith, a prominent book on equity in personal relationships begins by saying that "Man is selfish. individuals will try to maximize their outcomes."8 Psy- chologist Daniel Goleman nicely summarizes the continuing trend: “in recent years, the mainstream of psychological research has looked at love almost as if it were a business transaction, a matter of profit and loss."9 The view that personal relationships are like ordinary goods and services has drawn bitter criticism.‘0 Most critics simply reject the materialistic orientation of the rational choice frame- work. I will argue, however. that the'exchange model is much more effectively challenged on its own terms. We can shed its most troublesome aspects without abandoning the assumption that material payoffs play a pivotal role in shaping behavior. But before laying out the details of the argument and evidence, it will be helpful first to look at some of the reasoning that motivates the economic approach to personal relationships. THE MARKET FOR RELATIONSHIPS The materialist view of relationships is hardly new. We see it, for example, in the familiar practice'whereby people rate the attractiveness of persons of the opposite sex by assigning them numbers between 1 and 10. These attractiveness ratings, or something essentially like them, are the shadow prices in Becker's efficient marriage market. if participants follow the rule of thumb, “Marry-the most attractive person who will have you," the result will be assortative mating. The 105 will pair with other 108, the 93 with other 95, and so on. At one level, many of us want to say it is a gross insult to suppose that the countless rich dimensions of a person could thus be captured on a single numerical scale; -or that such a LOVE l87 number could somehow represent the essence of what tran- spires between people in love. Many of us may also lament the inflated role played by physical appearance, especially in envi- ronments where people do not know one another well. And yet no one would deny that some people are generally more sought after as potential marriage partners, and would remain so even in environments with perfect information. Most people want mates who are kind, caring. healthy, intel- ligent, physically attractive, and so on. Everyone will assign his or her own weights to each of these qualities. But given a set of weights, there is at least a rough sense in which it is meaningful to speak of the overall attractiveness of a person. The concept of an overall attractiveness rating makes it clear that an implicit tradeof‘f exists between the various traits peo- ple value. For example, two people may be'regarded as equally attractive even though one is less physically attractive. but more intelligent. than the other. . The coin of the realm in the relationship 'market is each per— son's own overall attractiveness rating. This is the “endow— ment” with which she or he shops for a mate. Some elements of this endowment are acquired. others inherited. It is possi- ble. for example, to make oneself a more attractive person by becoming better informed, or by cultivating a more caring and gracious posture toward others. At the same time, however. there are obvious limits beyond which such traits as intelli- gence or physical appearance cannot be manipulated. Elevator shoes and shoulder pads may help in some settings. but are of little use at the beach. inevitably. the distribution of endow- ments in the relationship market will display painful inequi- ties. The same is true. of course, of the distribution of cash incomes that support participation in markets for ordinary goods and services. Most economists make no claims of fairness on behalf of the distributions of endowments in any of the markets they study. Instead, their claims focus on efficiency, and take roughly this form: For a given distribution of endowments, free trade 3V.) CAD 188 PASSIONS WITHIN REASON between self-serving individuals will maximize welfare. By "maximize welfare," economists mean that no alternative arrangement exists that would improve one person's lot with- out simultaneously injuring others. Becker’s marriage market purports to be efficient in this spe- cific sense. There is no claim that it is fair. But if we set aside our concerns about the distribution of endowments. we dis- cover that it nonetheless metes out a certain rough justice. A given endowment in the marriage market, after all, can pur— chase only so much: to marry someone with a pretty face. one must be willing to settle for fewer of the other desirable traits. There is thus a genuine advantage in being someone who cares more about inner traits of character than about straight noses or smooth complexions. For with a given endowment. such a person can “purchase" a mate who is more thoughtful. intelli- gent, and caring. By comparison. someone who is more con- cerned about mere physical appearance must 'settle for less of these qualities.“ _ The economic details of the search for prospective marriage partners are interesting in their own right, often involving the signaling issues we encountered in Chapter 5. As with the toad that had to estimate the size of his rivals in the dark, the prob- lem here, too, is that many key traits are difficult to obsente. behznzioral signals that reveal them. in Chapter 5, we saw that for a signal to be effective, it must be costly to fake. Someone who is looking, say, for a highly disciplined partner might thus do well to take special interest in people who run marathons in less than two and a half hours. Even the degree of interest a person shows in a. prospective ‘This conclusion rests on the conventional view that a preference for a smooth complex— ion is somehow less worthy of respect than a preference for thoughtfulness. 0n the alter- native view that preferences for various attributes are equally worthy of respect. the same ' conclusion obviously would not follow. indeed. one could just as easily say that there would be advantage in not caring about intelligence, because then one would get a more physically attractive mate. ' LOVE 189 partner will sometimes reveal a lot. Groucho Marx once said he wouldn't join any club that would have him as a member. To follow a similar strategy in the search for a relationship would obviously result in frustration. And yet Marx was clearly onto something. There ma be reasons for avoiding a 332W If this person is as attractive as he or she seems, why such eagerness? Such a posture will often suggest unfavorable values for traits that are difficult to observe; WW make it clear wh co ess, within limits. is so ada tive in the market for relationships. The same properties tell us something about the institutional arrangements under which people search for partners. An oft- decried difficulty of modern urban life is that heavy work schedules make it hard for people to meet one another. In response. commercial dating services offer to match people with ostensibly similar interests and tastes. Participants in these services are thus spared the time and expense of getting to know people with whom they have few interests in common. They also avoid uncertainty about whether their prospective partner is interested in meeting someone. And yet. while mar- riages do sometimes result from commercial dating services. the consensus appears to be that they are a bad investment. The apparent reason is that, without meaning to, thgyilgt as a screenin device that identifies 0 1e who have trouble initi- ating their own relationships. To be sure, sometimes a partic~ ipant's trouble is merel that he i .rgliutroftcn it is the result of pgrsonality problems or otherl more worrisome diffi- culties. Peo le who ri ' ' ‘ ' s are indeed easier to meet. just as the adver 's ments sa I. But si ali theo era e th are less worth meetin . LOVE AS AN lRRATlONAL FORCE The exchange model of close personal relationships leaves many outsiders scratching their heads. Can the exchange the- ,mm;mimmimmm w i nmmwm—IMWWMMwWMWQw r. a,” 1.. «WWW. I90 ~ PASSIONS WITHIN REASON orists possibly be serious? Their views certainly do stand in sharp contrast to traditional views about love. In his novel Clea, for example, Lawrence Durrell offers this picture: It may be defined as a cancerous growth of unknown origin which may take up its site anywhere without the subject knowing or wishing it. How often have you tried to love the "right" person in vain. even when your heart knows it has found him after so much seeking? No, an eyelash. a perfume. a haunting walk, a straw- berry on the neck, the smell ofalmonds on the breath—these are the accomplices the spirit seeks out to plan your overthrow.“ In the same vein, Douglas Yates tells us, “People who are sen- sible about love are incapable of it." Pascal, too. was no friend of the rationalists when he wrote, "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of." Our traditional notions of love, in short, could hardly be any less compatible with the cool, deliberative tones of the self- interest model. Yet, despite bitter objections from traditional- ists. the economist’s approach continues to flourish. THE PREDICTIVE POWER OF THE SELF- INTEREST -MODEL How are we to reconcile traditional views of love with the continuing inroads of the exchange model? Despite wide- spread discomfort with the cost-benefit approach,it has pros- pered on the strength of its ability to predict and explain behavior. One of its predictions is that families with a given income will have fewer children as the market value of the mother’s time increases. Precisely this relationship has been found in numerous studies.’2 It also successfully predicts that women with high earning power will be more. likely to divorce, as will women who live in states with generous welfare bene- fits.'3.And it successfully predicts that men with hg' her incomes ' tend to margy at younger ages." Thgrraditionalism, by con- trast, say merely that people marry and have children because LOVE 19] of love. With some justification, the exchange theorists find such pronouncements distressingly vague. The market model not only makes detailed predictions about behavior, it even offers practical insights for the lovelorn. A colleague once told me about a close friend who complained that her love life was mysteriously perverse. "Why is it," she asked, “that the 0 1e I fall in love with are never interestgl‘ tn me, whereas the ones who do fall in love with me are never the ones I care about?" My colleague knew the woman well, and felt free to offer this candid assessment: "You‘re an 8 con— stantly chasing'after 10s," he egplained2 “and constantly beipg chased by 63." By the woman's own account. this one—sentence “analysis" proved more helpful than years of psychological counseling had. If, as the traditional view insists, irrationality is an essential ingredient of the emotion of love, why does the self-interest model tell us so much about what people do in love relation- ships? The commitment model suggests not that the self—inter- est model is wrong, but that it leaves out something important. A ruthless application of it implies important limitations on the ability of self-seeking actors to achieve material objectives in love relationships. As in earlier chapters, the difficulty again stems from the commitment problem: W pursue self-interest often forecloses valuable oppprtunities, ones W that can be egploited only in the presence of a comm W- A SIMILAR PROBLEM IN THE RENTAL HOUSING MARKET The nature of the difficulty is very clearly illustrated by a similar. problem encountered in the market for rental housing. That market shares several important features with the infor- mal market for marriage partners. Both are characterized by incomplete information on both sides of the exchange. Just as .. w.— _’V-.. “qr—WW. ‘.4..._...,_.. .. . _. 989? 192 PASSIONS WITHIN REASON it takes time and effort to meet people and get to know them, so it takes time and effort to discover which dwellings are available and what they are like. For the landlord’s part. it takes time to interview tenants to discover how responsible they are and how much rent they will pay. Because time and other resources are scarce. it generally will not make sense to visit each vacant apartment or to interview every potential tenant. By visiting only a small sample. apart: ment-seekers can get an approximate idea of what types of units are available at what prices. Landlords, similarly, can get some idea of the distribution of available tenants without interview- ing everyone. Based on their estimates of the relevant distributions, land- lords and tenants can sensibly choose thresholds for terminat- ing their searches. Once a sufficiently good tenant or apartment comes along, it will not pay to luck further. The threshold that defines “good” here will naturally depend on circumstance. Apartment seekers with free time on their hands. for example. will want to search longer than others. Similarly, landlords who rent furnished apartments with many breakable items will want to spend more time interviewing. Whatever the circumstances of any particular searcher, once he encounters his threshold quality level, it will be rational to stop looking. This will be true even though. in the tenant's case. there is certain to be a better apartment for less rent available somewhere; and even though, in the landlord's, there is sure. to exist some other tenant who is both more responsible and willing to pay more. ' The match between tenant and landlord does not stop with their having found one another. The standard practice includes the additional step of signing a lease, a formal contract that fixes the rent and other terms for a specific period. Why this commitment? lf both parties were sure they had found the best possible match, a lease would not be necessary. The tenant would have no incentive to leave, nor would the landlord ever want him to. The problem is that neither party has any such LOVE I93 assurance. Having agreed to move in, the tenant might stumble onto a much better deal, acceptance of which would force the landlord to begin his costly search anew. The tenant faces a parallel risk. On the tenant's side. it is not merely the costs of search that are in jeopardy. Often he will wish to tailor the dwelling to his own tastes. The costs of paint. curtains. and other custom fur- nishings will be well worth it to him if he can stay for an extended period. But he will not be Willing to make these investments without the protection afforded by a lease. Both the landlord and the tenant realize that they would strike a less favorable bargain if each were to remain free to pursue his own interests. The tenant would not be willing to pay as much rent without the security of a lease. nor would the land- lord be willing to accept as little. They each thus have a clear material incentive to limit their options. They face a commit- ment problem of the familiar sort. The landlord does not want to be able to remove his tenant the moment a better one comes along. The tenant, similarly, does not want to be able to leave if a better apartment turns up. Unrestricted rational choice would result in a worse outcome for both of them. A lease is not a perfect way of solving their commitment problem. but it works well enough. THE COMMITMENT PROBLEM IN THE RELATIONSHIP MARKET The parallels between the rental housing market and the market for personal relationships are clear. Exchartggmgdgl views each participant in the relatgnshimelwtfismmg for the best partner his or her endowment will command. Information about ros ctive artners is notorious incom— plete, much more so than in the rental housing market. Even. if a person knew exaCflWiflg for, many of the relevant traits would remaingxgegiingly difficult to dis- cover. fl ,A?g"<’0u;1 $55“ L ’9’ {JV/é.) S'Pg'q? ,’ ‘ M7 194 'PASSIONS WITHIN REASON 'l‘ he implication is that exhaustive search, even if physically possible, would be economicall w As in the rental housing market, searchers in the relationshi market em 10 limited samples to get some idea of the distribution of mten- tially available partners. Signals of the sort discussed earlier may play an important role. On the basis of their estimates of the relevant distributions, searchers then choose a threshold quality level. A match occurs, finally, with the pairing of two searchers who meet or exceed one another's thresholds. A_§_~in the rental housing case, each party will generally feel sure that there is a better partner out there somewhere. But again, it simply does not pay to look further. ’ commitment to the relationshi for an extended riocl. For here, even more than in the rental housing case, each has a compelling interest in making investments whose success demnds on the relationship's survival. :1 he rearing of children is the most obvious one, but there are also many others. They will wish, for example, to accumulate joint property, much of which would be difficult or immssible to divide it they were to seErate. It is easy enough to replace the missing half of a record collection. but what can take the place of a painting each has come to treasure? Just as most societies have rental leases, most also h...
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