Monday, April 07, 2008

MBAs on Policy; Economists on Dating

If I had a nickel for every time a psychologist has written a column falsely pigeonholing economists with other MBA and business graduates, I would be rich. Let alone, the money I would make from having a nickel every time these two disciplines got something wrong about each other.

In this post from Psychology Today, this is what was written regarding economists:

Only economists would be so blind.
I think that's a bit of an overshoot. From the abundant literature that we are seeing from economists today (e.g. Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, The Logic of Life) an economist would not make the error . A mid level manager, or another business discipline would make the error described below.

So, what was the error? Well, let us proceed to the part where I, and most other economists, excel beyond your typical business graduate. By the way, before you start writing your hate mail to me, let me first state that an economist would not do a litany of other things as well as other business graduates. I'm sure those graduates have plenty of examples, so go ahead and fill the comment box if you so please.

The error came in a policy implemented for customer service sake at a supermarket. Essentially, the cashiers were supposed to start making eye contact with the customers while thanking them for shopping at that particular supermarket. However:
However, the policy backfired when the employee was female and the customer was male. When the female employee gazed deeply into his eyes, smiled, and thanked him by his name, the male customer “naturally” assumed that she was attracted to him, and started harassing her by following her around on and off work. In other words, many of the male customers turned into Beavis and Butt-head. Eventually, five female employees had to file a Federal sex discrimination charge against Safeway to force it to stop this policy, which the supermarket chain did when it reached an out-of-court settlement.

So, where am I being proven right? My so called "pessimism" on the ease of dating and asking complete strangers out for a date. What a crock. As much as I hate to admit it, New York Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman goes through the same thing with his op-eds. Krugman had been warning of asset overpricing in housing (real estate) for a while, but people merely scoffed at him as "pessimistic" when he was just stating observations on facts. Just as mortgage companies would scoff at people who wanted a fixed rate mortgage and reply, "Get an adjustable rate mortgage. It looks scary now, but you could always just refinance this loan later. The value of your home will only go up."

Just as people and friends scoffed at me when I would speak to them on the game theory possibilities of dating. Unfortunately, no one would listen when I would explain to them how having a relationship was like making a personal contract with someone. Nor would they listen when I explained that the market for finding people out there is not as easy as it sounds. People everywhere are looking for things specifically, whether it be no relationship at all, or a relationship with the most stringent qualifications ever made. It's these intricacies that make online dating sites, such as eHarmony, so popular. Essentially, the website is supposed to sort through all those variables for you.

When I posted about those stringent qualifications before, I was lambasted for being so self-deprecating. While the humor was self-deprecating, that is/was not the issue. The issue is that everyone, in their own personal quests for optimism, simply for the sake of optimism, fails to see the intricacies that make life the adventure that it is. It is those intricacies that make economists able to write entire books on items that we identify and write off as everyday life. And it is those intricacies that make people so selective about whom they will choose to spend the rest of their lives with, let alone one night for a date.

So, there are economic parallels with dating. And it is true, as that men can easily get the wrong signals from women, which would mean that obviously economists have a better knack for thinking about how life works. Maybe that's because economists aren't afraid to delve into other specifics of academia, such as psychology, neurology, and biology.

I mean seriously, what other profession would have the guts to tell you that an engagement ring is simply a non-refundable deposit to be worn on the ring finger? I mean, that is what it is, right? Either that, or we all have some explaining to do about how and where true love is represented.

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