Arnold Kling  

Romance or Signalling Game?

The Deficit Argument, IV... Risk Spreads Widen...

Economists sometimes seem to be incurable anti-romantics. Consider James Miller's treatment of Valentine's Day as a signalling game.

Even a woman who hates flowers would be rational in getting mad at her boyfriend for not buying her flowers on Valentine's Day, because by not wasting resources on her the boyfriend has signaled his disinterest.

For Discussion. What do you think of the notion that a proclamation of love is inherently not credible unless reinforced by "wasting resources"?

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Stephen W. Stanton writes:

The signaling theory is dead on. The women I have known use this very logical approach to a very emotional subject...

I had better get to the florist.

Lynne Kiesling writes:

Actually, my husband (a physicist, not an economist) and I are such anti-romantics that we've dispensed with the flowers entirely. Instead we spend the $$ on a good bottle of wine to share.

But I suppose that romantic, yet anti-romantic in another way. However, it is not rent seeking or rent disspation, but is rather utility-maximizing shared consumption!

Damien Smith writes:

Interestingly, the hero free-market economist in "The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance" implicitly recognises this form of signalling; at one point he even sends flowers to the liberal he's wooing, as an apology. Though they disagree about policy, he's inspired, and he even reads the poetry she loves.

Russell Roberts nice, page-turning book gives several cute insights into economic theory, but never analyses love. That would probably be too much, I think.

David Thomson writes:

“Wasting resources” is undeniably necessary in human relationships. The exchange of presents is abstractly senseless. Alas, we are not coldly rational and that is why reductionist economic theories leave much to be desired.

Russ Roberts writes:

It's possible that the hero free-market economist in "The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance" is skeptical about the value of bringing flowers but knows that others respect the signal. But I suspect that even free-market economists of the purest stripes bring flowers to their spouses rather than cash when feeling romantic. And not just because their spouses are into signalling. True, in-kind gifts can be terribly inefficient. The classic example being O'Henry's "Gift of the Magi." But in-kind gifts create memories in ways that cash do not.

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