Friday, March 8, 2013

Price and value

It is nearly impossible, maybe all the way, and actually impossible, for me to keep track of all my stuff.  Just the t-shirts are too many.  Oh, I still have that one?  I haven't seen that one for years!  Not to mention books, both paper and electronic, magazines read and unread, tools, cardboard boxes I might need some time.  But there other, hard-to-spot goods and assets.  My reputation, my friendships, my ideas.  How much would I pay to have my experiences?  How much would I pay to....?

Paying and money are activities we engage in all the time and we feel that we know them.  But prices and payments given or received are really a rather crude tool.  Pretty good and certainly have a world-wide following but still limited.  We know the limits all the time when we think of love, honor, devotion, pleasure, joy, etc.  The American tax system gives credit for giving money to charities, which depend on giving money away to causes we think deserve support.  It can come as a shock to those who spend their lives in finance to realize how many people much of the time are dealing in unpriceable goods and services.  How much do I owe my pastor for saving my soul?  How much do I owe my grandchildren for the cheer they raise in me?  

The 4th chapter of Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational", on social norms, and how we are happy to do some things but not when we are paid for them, begins like this:

You are at your mother-in-law's house for Thanksgiving dinner, and what a sumptuous spread she has put on the table for you! The turkey is roasted to a golden brown; the stuffing is homemade and exactly the way you like it. Your kids are delighted: the sweet potatoes are crowned with marshmallows. And your wife is flattered: her favorite recipe for pumpkin pie has been chosen for dessert. The festivities continue into the late afternoon. You loosen your belt and sip a glass of wine. Gazing fondly across the table at your mother-in-law, you rise to your feet and pull out your wallet. "Mom, for all the love you've put into this, how much do I owe you?" you say sincerely. As silence descends on the gathering, you wave a handful of bills. "Do you think three hundred dollars will do it? No, wait, I should give you four hundred!" This is not a picture that Norman Rockwell would have painted. A glass of wine falls over; your mother-in-law stands up red-faced; your sister-in-law shoots you an angry look; and your niece bursts into tears. Next year's Thanksgiving celebration, it seems, may be a frozen dinner in front of the television set.

Ariely, Dan, (2008-02-19). Predictably Irrational (Kindle Locations 1037-1046). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I got onto this line of thinking after watching Amanda Palmer's TED talk on the art of asking and reading this article on her.

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