Monthly Archives: February 2014

A theory of “slut shaming”

I know nothing about this topic.

Why do men revile women that have many sexual partners? This is particularly interesting because, based on my own unscientific observation, these same men tend to enjoy watching pornography with rough sex, rape fantasies, BDSM, young-looking girls, etc.The dual pattern seems particularly strong among teens and 20-somethings, and its strength seems inversely related to social immersion and aptitude. Just take a look on Reddit if you don’t believe me.

What do all of those forms of pornography have in common? Strong dominance-submission themes. Because of mirror neurons or what-have-you, this kind of porn — and more broadly, this kind of fantasy — makes a certain type of man feel powerful, which can be fleeting in day-to-day life. Yet the same man who gets rock hard at the thought of a gang bang might well be averse to dating a girl who actually likes them. He could even be a slut-shamer.

My theory is that slut-shaming is rooted in jealousy and low self esteem. Porn is more often than not designed to make a man feel like he is in fact the male talent, with six-pack abs and a big dick. The flipside of this is that he probably isn’t. That’s an extremely discouraging realization to come to, in an evolutionary biology-psychology sense, and I claim that this feeling is displaced (or whatever the right psychoanalysis term is) onto the girls. This has two reasons: 1) men feel threatened by the men that so-called sluts are thought to like, and 2) men feel hopeless knowing that these “sluts” are therefore out of their league.

As a corollary, this forms a loop of “reaction formation” (I got that one from Wikipedia) with seclusion that culminates in reprehensibly sexist behavior among nerds on the Internet.

My evidence for this is limited, but comes partly from observing my own thoughts and reactions. I don’t claim it’s uniquely causal, but it seems plausible to me and I can’t think of any glaring counterexamples. As always, I’d love to discuss this with someone who actually knows something about it.

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Things that are cheaper than WhatsApp

I love this gag blog and I think it should be shown in every economics classroom next week. (“Gag blog” is an unpleasant phrase).

The magic and mystery of resource allocation are on full display here. Even if we take Google’s enormous cash endowment for granted (I still don’t understand how they make any money at all), is it really true that WhatsApp is the best use of Google’s $15 billion? It’s probably not the best use of society’s $15 billion. I think this would be a great starting point for a complexity modeling project, but I would be surprised to find that cash (read: value; read: resources) recirculating to the benefit of mankind the way it would if it were, say, directly invested in a permanent clean water supply for the entire Central African Republic. Or even in a new, high-efficiency power grid for the U.S.A. Or in keeping community hospitals from closing in the outer boroughs of New York. Or in many of the things on that blog.

The great failure of undergraduate economics education, to me, is that this issue is generally left unaddressed. Or worse, students are told that things like this can’t really happen, and if they do it’s because of “policy interventions” or some analogous cop-out. Resource allocation is the most fundamental line of inquiry in economics. In my opinion it is the distinguishing topic from mere demographics, finance, and sociology (although some sociologists do great economics in places economics seems to have failed). It is also, from what I can tell, still quite poorly understood. How do individual organizations come to command so much raw value? Cumulative advantage models are tempting but fundamentally unsatisfying. How much of that value will manifest as human well-being? How much of it will be recirculated into the economy? Where will it end up? Economics, from what I can tell, has a few ad-hoc approaches, some of them taught at the Principles level, that could apply to these questions, but it has nothing nothing approaching a unified theory. General Equilibrium doesn’t come close and I haven’t heard of an alternative.

It’s fine to not have an explanation. What’s not fine is to leave things we can’t explain off the syllabus. To be fair, resource allocation does get talked about. For example, Principles students at Rochester are taught why tap water is cheap and diamonds are expensive. But that’s not nearly enough. Intro chemistry and physics courses are laden with demos. Demonstrate how to make fire out of water and some crystals, then explain what just happened. Lie down on a bed of nails and explain why you aren’t hurt. Yes, a buoyant Professor Rizzo gave out a bunch of money on the first day of Eco 108, in a fun activity that got everybody interested and one guy $20 richer. But it’s the exception that proves the rule. And frankly, his lesson was somewhat less exciting and a lot more subtle than “look how freaking cool this topic is!”

I want to make sure that, if I ever become a doctorate-wielding economist, I don’t lose sight of economics for its own sake.  I do care deeply about poverty and opportunity disparities and such, but there is so much more to social science than societal ills. If anything, widespread prosperity is one of the most amazing phenomena I have ever encountered in my young life. I could hardly call myself a scientist if I weren’t drawn to study it.

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I’m not paying attention in class

Then again, Birmingham is a relatively poor place and might appreciate it if New York could, in fact, outsource our care work there. Or how about Scranton?

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A high wage city

Mayor DeBlasio talks a lot about raising the floor. Great! But what’s stopping business, that by nature prefer a lower floor, from leaving?

Infrastructure, retail, and care services intended for consumers in New York cannot be outsourced to Trenton, Birmingham, Mexico City, or Mumbai. Rich people in New York consume a lot of these things and New York is increasingly full of such people. I suspect that the wage elasticity of employment is low in a city like New York for this reason, and indeed that putting a floor on wages, combined with the training programs DeBlasio wants to implement, would kick the city into some kind of higher wage equilibrium, rather than causing it to hemorrhage talent and business as the free marketeers might claim.

I don’t think this is a portable solution. But New York is a big place and if it works it would have a big impact, and hopefully provide insights that are portable to other cities.

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Price, value, and opportunity cost


Project idea: compare the unit resource cost of a grass fed super free organic omega range 3 farmers market local whatever to its nutritionless Monsanto-funded soylent green supermarket equivalent. Pick a few headline items and really do a thorough supply chain comparison. I find it hard to believe that “less” (in terms of processing and additives) actually costs more.

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Labor demand and consumption demand.

There are two sides to every market: the supply side and the demand side. The supply side produces the good. The demand side consumes it. This is a simple claim, but let’s unpack it a bit.

Consumption is the process of extracting value from something for personal, emotional benefit. Let’s leave aside the issue of what exactly “value” is. A sufficient characterization is that its manifestation as personal benefit is intangible and non-transferable. If I am happy I cannot directly transfer that happiness to you. Production is the process of packaging value in a transferable form. In the case of production goods (as opposed to services) this consists of adding value to a physical object.

But value cannot simply be injected into physical goods. Some physical interaction must occur. And invariably (even in the robot age) this interaction includes other human beings. But then no market can be considered in isolation. While end-consumer consumption could, with mildly restrictive assumptions, be modeled as an economically dead-end process, such is not the case for production as it is typically practiced in developed nations. Under similarly mild assumptions, production is necessarily an economic process, in that both its inputs (through labor) and outputs (as goods) depend on and affect prices and quantities in some markets somewhere.

There are two sides to every market. The blogosphere has been reporting that price competition pressure is increasing in the US. This is because consumers’ price elasticities of demand and substitution remain high, and so corporate profit, at least in consumer-oriented firms, is becoming zero sum. At least one blogger is predicting a contraction based on this trend.

Ok. But why are consumers so price conscious? Because their incomes are so low relative to prices. Corporate profits are historically high because wage growth is historically flat and wages are historically low relative to productivity. I am posting this quickly, without links, so I don’t forget about it, but this story has been spun by smarter and more measured analysts than me.

Here’s what I haven’t seen anyone say yet: Increasing price competition is a natural, nominal (deflationary?) corrective pressure that results from equilibrium wages that are apparently too low. The blogosphere has failed to recognize that corporate suppliers are also demanders and consumer demanders are also suppliers.

So why is this a problem in real terms? Does it have something to do with price rigidity? Something in the transition dynamics as an oligopoly turns to Bertrand competition?

Firms won’t pay each other to raise wages to offset the fall in demand. But is there a policy recommendation in here? Could a minimum wage actually increase output this way? Particularly if a contraction is, in fact, on the horizon.

Perhaps importantly, how does this interact with the recent finding that wage floor interventions reduce hiring by an order of magnitude larger than they raise incomes?

I really suck at macro and didn’t learn anything about it in college. I’d love to hear what else I’m missing. A friend once accused me of being a Keynesian. Is that true?

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