Sunday, November 18, 2012

Romanconomics - Greek Life

Greece sexual economics
"... and I'll tell you how the
root of that word is Greek."
So, I know that I coined the clever term "romanconomics" to describe the market forces at work in the dating market at large, but for just a second, let's pretend that the root word of "romance" sounded more like "Greek" and less like "Roman." This adventure was inspired by Greece ... and not the roiling mass of austerity riots we've come to know and love. No, this adventure was inspired by Lysistrata.

See, earlier this week, I was procrastinating by reading social commentary (please, continue to think I'm cool) about how not everyone loves the hook-up culture. How in fact, some women think that the hook-up culture is a rip-off. And how sometimes, women feel stuck because we don't have much of a functional dating market, and like maybe we shouldn't have high standards, because so many other competitors are willing to undercut you. Or in plain English, how sometimes it's hard to not date much because you don't casually hook up, and that's what's expected these days.

Christian Sexual Economics
Granted, just now, I read an article on Salon about how "Guys Don't Want Casual Sex!" This article cites all sorts of exciting statistics, like how "15%" of guys are "very religious" and are interested in "courting," or "going on dates," to which I said "bahahahahaha, please. Continue to tell me how fun and simple the Christian dating scene is."

 My favorite part of the Salon article is where they discuss how only 15% (a popular number) of guys are real Cassanova types, hooking up with three or more women in a year. Here, 15% is a small number, so we're told that all the undergrad co-eds who think that all the guys are just interested in sex must be wrong. This is big news, because it's one of only 17 times since Descartes that we've been told that someone's own experience is wrong. So, mindless logical jumps aside, that statistic has some really fascinating philosophical assumptions hidden in it.

The point of all that is to tell you that you can find an article espousing* just about any romanconomics theory you might be interested in, but absolutely none of them are going to be as fun to read as mine. So, get excited.

Cartel Sexual Economics
Cartel members used to wear suits.
Anyway, the general theory of the original article was that "perhaps if all women banded together and quit hooking up so easily, maybe we could get a nice dinner every now and then." This tactic, of forming a sort of "battle of the sexes cartel," is famously brought to fruition in Lysistrata, the Greek play where Greeks get so tired of going without sex that they agree to end a war.**

There are two important economic concepts at work here: cartels and bilateral monopolies.

Drug Cartel Sexual Economics
Cartel members now wear guns
and no shirts.
First, we turn to cartels. Essentially, this is where competitors band together and price-fix, thus raising the price of a single good (until someone undercuts them). Typically this works best with an oligopoly, because the more people you involve, the more likely it is that someone defects, hoping to make more profits by stealing customers than by enjoying a higher price.

In the dating market, this is especially difficult, because different people have different standards and different goals, and if you're in some sort of a bidding war for the same guy, the first shot may just decide everything. Tense.

Coffee Sexual Economics
This leads us to the second economic concept, that of a bilateral monopoly. A bilateral monopoly is when there is only one buyer and only one seller, and so they have to bargain with each other. This happens when you're really only interested in one guy, and he's really only interested in you, but you're not dating because the transaction costs of dating are really high, because of a lack of market standards. In other words, because of a lack of a "social script," there's not a clear-cut answer to important questions like "How do you show you're interested via tone-less text messages?" "What does 'let's get coffee' actually mean?" and the classic "If two people go on a date, but no one calls it a date, was it actually a date?"

Questions like this make male/female communication, which was already difficult, even harder. Everyone is confused - and the poor girl is stuck sending idiotic text messages like "Of course! 8:30 sounds great! See you then! :D" because saying "8:30 is good" somehow sounds like you're being short because you're mad. So, even though in a bilateral market you're not competing with everyone else, the behavior of others still affects the transaction costs of any single relationship.

Rules Sexual Economics
The book for everyone else
Thus, Lysistrata-like ideas start to sound really appealing. Maybe you buy a book explaining all the "rules" of dating, or maybe you try blogging about ideal market functioning for the dating market. Regardless, you probably don't get very far. Why?

Because at the end of the day, the dating market is more like a conglomeration of bilateral monopolies than any sort of market. Even though some "industry standards" would be wildly helpful, every relationship is different—full of its own little quirks. And on that sappy note, I'm going to decode some text messages.

I considered cartels and bilateral monopolies in:
Black below-the-knee pencil skirt, blue and black sueded button-up with military detailing, silver hoops, blue glass necklace, black and silver watch, armored rhinestone ring, and floral platform stilettos with lace-up detail.

*E-spouse-ing. See what I did there?

** For those of you keeping track at home, this is the exact opposite of what American college children tried during Vietnam. 


  1. Have you been reading Wendy Shalit's "A Return to Modesty"?

  2. No - I've never heard of it. Worth reading?