Monday, April 25, 2011

Comments on Today's Session

In preparing for our Wednesday class on Objections, I read a few online book reviews of Nudge. From those I garnered that regardless of your views on the recommendations in the chapter on Privatizing Marriage, we should be able to agree that those recommendations are not nudges. The recommendations represent large changes from the current arrangement.

So one wonders why that chapter was included in the book. I don't know Sunstein and Thaler, but I have no problem imagining them being very enthusiastic for their own recommendations as I often get infatuated with ideas I come up with on my own. Then since they were doing this collaboration, shoehorning the ideas into the book might not be too much of a stretch. An editor is supposed to filter out author indiscretions, but when the book is likely to be popular and the authors can go to a different publisher, the authors retain some control.

On my initial reading of the book, it didn't occur to me that the suggestions in this chapter were not nudges. I am not sure what I would have done about it, but quite possibly nothing. That getting married is a time when homo economics is on vacation makes it a relevant topic for the class. In my case, and as a trained economist I am mainly rational about things, when I was dating my not yet then wife, I told her money grows on trees. Even though we still love each other very much, that wasn't a very shrewd thing to say and we both know that now.

That members of the class disagree about the recommendations in the chapter is not surprising. We've had disagreements before, mainly on whether paternalism is acceptable and if so when, also on whether government can be trusted to deliver the goods. The disagreements today were of a different nature. I didn't anticipate that outcome. I wonder if others in the class did, which would put you a few steps ahead of me.

1 comment:

  1. Here are some further thoughts on the topic.

    1. With regards to discouraging divorce, especially when there are children that are the product of the marriage, the book didn't get into the causes for filing for divorce. I believe the analysis was correct for certain causes but not for others. In particular, if there is physical abuse and/or mental cruelty, separation should happen asap. Note also that the book didn't really talk about separation as an intermediate step to divorce.

    2. There was some mention of people being over-optimistic that their marriage will survive at the outset. That's true, but it might not be the only part of the argument. One might envision a different sort of test - ask people who have been married quite a while first if they have a pre-nuptial agreement and if not second whether a pre-nuptial agreement would have had any effect on the marriage. In other words, might it have blocked some of the commitment as perceived by these people?

    3. For the record, I'll have been married 21 years this June and we didn't have such an agreement. Ours was an interfaith marriage. Before the wedding, my parents hadn't previously met my wife's parents - they were all elderly and didn't travel that much. They came to Champaign for the wedding and met a couple of days beforehand. We wanted that meeting to go as smoothly as possible. An issue that came up before the marriage that we didn't resolve at that time was the religion in which the children would be raised. I didn't want that issue resolved then and there. I wanted to work that out with my wife later. That's what ended up happening. I can't imagine negotiating a pre-nup over property yet putting on hold the decision about the religion of the children.

    4. I haven't researched this deeply but I learned there is such a thing as a post-nuptial agreement. One Web site I saw suggested that would be a step for a couple that is arguing a lot. To me it makes sense. If a couple is having problems, counseling is a usual step to see if the problems can be resolved. A post-nuptial agreement might be a component of counseling or a complementary step to take at the same time. The incentives would seem to be in better alignment at that time than they would be before the wedding.

    5. If and when you are planning to get married yourself, it is probably a good thing to get some counseling so you can have your eyes opened a bit. As far as I know, economists don't offer such counseling. ;-)