Bryan Caplan  

Aren't You Cold?

Questioning Medical Privacy... crisis of abundance...

I wear shorts about 10 months per year, and I live near Washington DC. Judging from the number of funny looks I get, and the number of times perfect strangers stare at me and ask "Aren't you cold?," my behavior is puzzling at best.

The silly explanation is that I'm from California. But that should make me more sensitive to cold, not less! The real answer, naturally, is that wearing shorts in the winter is good economics.

The simplest economic comeback to the unwanted queries would be "Of course I'm not cold. I do own long pants. By revealed preference, if I were cold I wouldn't be wearing shorts."

But that's not quite right. The truth is, I sometimes am uncomfortably cold as a result of my attire. So what gives?

The answer is that if I dressed more warmly, I would be more comfortable during the few minutes that I am outside (maybe 30 minutes per day), but less comfortable during the many hours that I am inside. It's cold outside, but warm inside, so I maximize my expected utility over the course of the day.

Suppose that my optimal temperature is 70 degrees if I wear shorts, and 60 degrees if I wear long pants. It is 40 degrees outside, and 75 degrees inside. Suppose further that every 1 degree deviation from my optimum causes me 10 cents worth of suffering per hour.

Implication: If I wear shorts, my half hour outside costs me .5*(70-40)*$.10=$1.50, and my eight hours inside costs me 8*(75-70)*$.10=$4.00. Total discomfort cost of shorts: $5.50.

In contrast: If I wear pants, my half hour outside costs me .5*(60-40)*$.10=$1.00, and my eight hours inside costs me 8*(75-60)*$.10=$12.00. Total discomfort cost of pants: $13.00.

If this reasoning sounds familiar, you've been reading this blog quite a while. I have essentially just repeated my argument for having lots of kids.

Couldn't I just bring a change of clothes with me wherever I go? Sure, but the inconvenience costs outweigh the benefits. Oh, and speaking of saving inconvenience costs, from now when people ask me if I'm cold, I think I'm just going to tell them I've already answered that question on my blog.

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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
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The author at The Club for Growth Blog in a related article titled Wearing Shorts in the Winter writes:
    Bryan Caplan offers up an economic explanation for why he wears shorts 10 months out of the year. He even includes utility maximization equations!... [Tracked on May 11, 2005 9:01 AM]
The author at The Filter^ in a related article titled Eat My Shorts writes:
    Bryan Caplan - who taught me graduate microeconomics - has decided to reveal his reasons for wearing shorts for 10 months of the year, in an article called Aren't You Cold?. Whilst the analysis is fun, it feels like he [Tracked on May 11, 2005 10:14 PM]
The author at Blithering Bunny in a related article titled Pink bits 73 writes:
    The UN says 24 000 civilians died in the Iraq War and its aftermath (not 100 000 as The Lancet claimed). This is based on a very large survey of over 21 600 houseolds. The report doesn't sound like a whitewash --apparently it's generally negative ab... [Tracked on May 13, 2005 7:12 AM]
COMMENTS (12 to date)
Brad Hutchings writes:

By revealed preference, you'd grow more hair on your legs if you were cold.

But seriously, this kind of reasoning also explains why execs still wear suits in SoCal. Total discomfort cost might be $15/day ($4000-ish a year). But the top-line might be a $50K bonus for dressing nicely versus being a slob.

Danno writes:

But if the guys in SoCal all cohesivley decided that it was stupid, they'd still be getting that $50k because they'd come up with more comfortable nicely dressed things to wear. They're just stuck in the suit rut.

On the other hand, I honestly have to question just how uncomfortable wearing pants inside makes you. I wear regular pants in the summer a fair amount and inside it's not really bad at all.

Of course, I DO spend the winter in the frozen wastelands of Troy, NY, which I imagine is a might bit colder than DC.

jaimito writes:

Nice reasoning.

Only that the purpose of dressing is not protection against weather. Dress is not functional, it is mainly a social signalling device.

Lets remake Brad's calculation in a Hassidic environment. No 50K bonuses here. You dress like a 17th Century Polish noble in the crudest of the winters, with a big fur hat, even if in fact you are being fried alive in tropical Miami. Why? Because your disconfort signals to your business partners and your rabbi that you are a dedicated and faithful Hassid, creditworthy and not likely to cheat on them.

Corollary: Caring little for convention does not pay.

PS: I hate convention and look where I am.

mark writes:

I had a college roomate from Alaska, who told mne that the stores were kept at a lower temperature since shoppers were dressed for really cold weather.

Lawrance George Lux writes:

You do express the rationalism to be found in most Economic Professors from California. Question: When does the irrelevance Cost exceed the the Computation Costs of the Analysis? lgl

Tom Kaminski writes:

Without realizing it, Bryan just answered one of the questions he asked in a previous post. Should economists go to finishing school? Yes--obviously. tk

Paul N writes:

Bryan, did you include in your calculations the "discomfort cost" of everyone who sees you thinking you're a COMPLETE DORK?

NJS writes:

Why are buildings kept at 75 degrees in the winter when keeping them at 60 degrees both reduces the cost of heating the building and minimizes total "discomfort costs" (using same discomfort cost function as Bryan and assuming over 50% of individuals wear pants)?

Trenchard Gordon writes:
"But if the guys in SoCal all cohesivley decided that it was stupid, they'd still be getting that $50k because they'd come up with more comfortable nicely dressed things to wear. They're just stuck in the suit rut."

Danno, I fear the "suit rut" is more than just a psychological hang-up; it's a of prisoner's dilemma. The optimal collective outcome is no suits, but no individual, upwardly-striving exec has any incentive to move toward that goal alone, unless he's willing to make himself worse off.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Sucks to be Brian on this post.

Paul N writes:

In all fairness though, weirdos are excellent to have around. I'd be sad if Bryan didn't wear shorts and roll 100-sided dice.

rachel pin writes:

i think wat your saying about discomfort is really logical i want to where shorts almost all year round but my mom will not let me im going to send this to her...haha
thank you for this information

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