I once debated the relationship between the social sciences with some anthropologists. We adjourned to the pub, and someone bought a round of drinks: the discussion naturally turned to the reasons why. For the economists, the explanation was obvious: the practice of buying rounds minimized transaction costs, reducing the number of exchanges between the patrons and the bar staff. The anthropologists saw it as an example of ritual gift exchange and described the many tribes that had developed similar customs. I proposed a test between the competing hypotheses: did you feel cheated or victorious if you bought more rounds than had been bought for you? Unfortunately, the economists and the anthropologists gave different answers to that question.
It seems to me that the lesson from this passage is that human happiness is maximized when economists and anthropologists drink together. Is the result generalizable? Should they marry?
I’m with the anthropologists on this. People are conscious of gifts, of receiving and giving, and how these bonds of reciprocity build over time. The economist view would see this particular situation as something in that particular moment without any durability beyond the immediate interaction. The anthropologist is aware that relationships take time to build and require maintenance and sustenance. The giving and receiving therefore is a form of nurturing, which in effect says “you mean something to me” and vice versa. Transaction costs don’t quite get to that state. Guanxi is another form of this. Although you may simplify it through economic analysis, like the London Tube map, you won’t explain its significance to the members of that group.
Conversely, vendettas and feuds are the flipside of this, which we’d rather do without. But some Albanian vendettas have endured over 100 years!
But you’re reacting to a story about anthros told by an economist!!!
As to marrying, only if they promise not to breed.
A gift and a transaction register in very different parts of the brain. Interesting Scientific American article here: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=this-is-your-brain-on-sho
in part it says:
It seems to me that, in addition to the social pleasure of receiving a gift, any gift, the gift also comes free of the wet-blanket participation of the thinking prefrontal cortex and the viscerally judgmental insula.
It certainly feels like that from the inside, anyway.