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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Current Reads

Steven Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics. Everytime I pick up a well-written “pop-econ” book, I’m reminded why I fell in love with this subject: unconventional wisdom, indeed. For example, the book’s title is explained in chapter 1, where Landsburg argues that incentivizing relatively chaste (and likely, HIV-negative) people to become more promiscuous would be beneficial for society. The more uninfected people who enter the “dating” (sex) pool, the greater everybody’s chances of selecting an uninfected partner. But that’s not all, the benefits are double: if a normally chaste person is unfortunate enough to take home an infected partner and contract a virus, he or she will be less likely to spread the disease on to future partners (as opposed to a more promiscuous person). The chapter goes on to explain how this outcome may be acheived through various incentive programs.

Obviously, this argument abstracts out several important factors that come into selecting a “date.” For example, promiscuity can be an indicator/result of attractiveness or desirability, whereas chastity may result from a lack of dating options. An attractive, promiscuous person’s options won’t necessarily become anymore limited if a chaste, unattractive person enters the dating competition. Likewise, an undesirable person who joins the dating pool isn’t guaranteed a partner.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • Beautiful women don’t marry any “better” than average women. (Is the structure of the “marriage auction market” to blame?)
  • Assuming that people who engage in criminal behavior are generally attracted to high-risk, high-payoff activities, a more effective way to reduce crime would be to increase the rate of convictions, rather than increasing the severity of the punishment (the MSU administration should be paying attention to this).
  • Parents of boys are less likely to divorce than parents of girls (apparently, my parents’ divorce was my fault). The exact reason isn’t known, and many theories are explored in the chapter. One theory that I enjoyed pondering was the notion that girls without fathers have low self-esteem and become promiscuous, while boys without fathers have low self-esteem and become socially withdrawn. Fathers help boys pass down their genes more than they help girls. 🙂
  • Based on pure cost-benefit analysis (and some exaggerated estimates of the damages done by computer virises), society would be better off executing a convicted computer hacker than a murderer.

In all, this is a fascinating book, and is definitely accessible to the non-economist.

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Filed under: Bookz, Economics, , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. Ceidwad says:

    I don’t really get the guy’s logic.

    If all chaste people went around screwing like whores and studs, they’d probably contract HIV/AIDS eventually and then pretty much everyone would have it as a direct result of the increased ‘activity’. Also, why would more chaste people necessarily be less likely to spread HIV than a promiscuous person, assuming, if we all took this guy’s advice, we’d all be promiscuous?

    Basic maths tells you that more ill-advised sex = more stds.

    As for the other stuff:

    -‘Eligible bachelor paradox’ – my view on this is that the trend for ‘career women’ these days means that those women who have ambition complexes are likely to focus on their careers to make sure their finances are in good order and they don’t have to marry a rich but aesthetically disadvantaged soul, while men don’t appreciate this type of thinking and marry someone without such ambitions. Thus by about 30-35 most ‘good’ men are married off and career women are left regretting that their office can’t give them a child.

    – Criminal convictions – Not all criminals are attracted to the element of risk. Many of them are just insane. More, shorter, convictions might be OK for petty thieves and such (though I still think corporal punishment is a fine deterrent for petty criminals; we’ll see how tempting it is to vandalise the school when the punishment for being caught is being ‘vandalised’ yourself) but it’s not going to work on a paedo or a rapist.

    Also, hi again! 🙂

  2. Libby says:

    Ceidwad, that kind of analysis that will never land anyone a tenure-track position. 😛

    The idea isn’t to get conservative people to become promiscuous, it’s just to get them to become a little more promiscuous than they normally are. If we take the promiscuous population’s behavior as given, (that is, we assume that they will continue having the same number of encounters as they did before the chaste enter the dating pool), then increased sexual encounters won’t increase the infection rate; in fact, it will *decrease* the infection rate, as now more encounters that do not result in infection are occurring.

    Obvs, it’s a simple model that leaves out a lot of important variables (like the likelihood of a virus mutation), but the mathematical reasoning is sound, as far as I can tell.

    RE: criminal convictions – yes, the assumption for increased conviction rates is that criminals are rational and respond to incentives. Empirical research into the behaviors of the criminal classes would tell us whether some types of criminals are more responsive to changing laws and punishments than others.

  3. Ceidwad says:

    OK, I see the point now. The %age of people getting HIV might decrease under such a circumstance, but I don’t see any reason why the absolute numbers would be positively affected; as I said, more people would still have HIV if more people are having ill-advised sex. The only difference is that the number of people having one-off sex would be greater. And it’s questionable as to whether that’s actually ‘good’ for society overall. After all, there’d probably be more people regretting their actions – we’ve all worn a pair of ‘beer goggles’ (and regretted the consequences) at some point.

  4. Libby says:

    While the %age of HIV cases decreases, the total utility of the people would go up, assuming that sex brings people pleasure. Presumably, the amount of utility society derives from increased sexual encounters would outweigh the dis-utility brought by HIV infections.

    Obvs, the assumption that people’s utility can be compared is a bit problematic, but in the aggregate, it works out.

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Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.
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