January 20, 2008

Fake Girlfriends...What Value Judgments?

In Chapter eight of Cowen’s Discover Your Inner Economist he provides examples of how markets exist for the seven deadly sins. Just to put them in common terms, the sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

One thing that gets me about this chapter is the inherent flaw present in it (the flaw being one of value judgments). In the beginning of the chapter Cowen states “not everything we want is good for us” (163). Later on, he says “This chapter doesn’t have a major or startling recipe for self-improvement. It is instead a cautionary tale of how the learned still can go astray. It is a warning not to get too smug” (163).

It is my guess that many of you have seen the movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin. After reading about Imaginarygirlfriends.com, I could not help but draw a comparison to the part of the movie when Andy tries to make his friends think he is not a virgin. It is common knowledge that TONS of guys say things about their escapades with various women in order to make people think they are cool. Men like this are the reason why markets for imaginary girlfriends exist. The market for imaginary girlfriends enables these “men” to actually purchase evidence to prove that their girls actually exist.

After Cowen describes Imaginarygirlfriends.com he states “Markets without values-or markets based on bad values-can misfire, with ugly results” (166). The problem here is he never defines no or bad values. What is a bad value? Maybe a bad value to Cowen is, actually, not-so-bad in someone else’s eyes. I think that it is absolutely hilarious that a guy would go as far as to pay for a girlfriend that isn’t real. In terms of ugly results, if the man caught purchasing the fake girlfriend is caught, people will point and laugh. This creates an ugly misfire for the fake girlfriend-purchaser, yet creates a moment of happiness for others, especially those who had to listen to the stories, as they watch the “man” bask in shame. Maybe the joy created by this market actually outweighs the harm done to the consumer of the fake girlfriend.

What I simply don’t understand is why this market is so bad. Obviously, it is sad for a man to purchase a fake girlfriend. However, you must admit, that creating a business in the fake-girlfriend career field is an interesting idea. After all it is a market which, most likely, possesses great demand and little supply. Selling fake girlfriends is about as creative a business idea as one can come up with. What makes this so bad? In order for Cowen to make a strong argument as to why this market is bad, he would have needed to say what his value judgments were. By not revealing his value judgments, we have nothing to base his statements on, making it much harder to deduce their validity.


Roman Kozhevnikov said...

Cowen wrote, "Markets without values-or markets based on bad values-can misfire, with ugly results” (166).

You said, "This creates an ugly misfire for the fake girlfriend-purchaser, yet creates a moment of happiness for others, especially those who had to listen to the stories, as they watch the “man” bask in shame."

You admitted that this misfired, at least for half of the consumer/onlooker relationship, so I don't see how Cowen is wrong.

Also, I think that some things, especially to people within a certain cultural group, like America (Although I do realize that there are countless subcultures within America.), are generally accepted as bad values, and I think Cowen is referring to those broad categories, not to things on the fence.

For example, I think it is generally accepted in America that shooting up meth with a 2-year-old around is a bad value judgement (sin = (1)greed, thinking only of yourself, not the child, (2)lust, of the high the drug gives). Of course this is an extreme example, but I think Cowen would definitely argue that anything that appeals to promoting such bad-value-based behavior, such as child-proof drug equipment, would be setting their business venture, themselves, and possibly their entire company up for failure.

As for the fake girlfriend thing, I agree with you that selling fake girlfriends is a pretty unsaturated market with (probably??) a fairly high demand, but what if the fake girlfriend and the guy have sex? Is she then a prostitute? Surely that would have some legal consequences, for the "pimp" behind the company. And viola! Backfire.

It's not that I totally disagree with you. I just wanted to add my take on what I thought Cowen meant.

Alan C. Earing said...

As Roman stated, I don't disagree with you either regarding a 'bad market,' but as economists don't we assume two things:

1) people are rational and have their own 'best interests' at heart.

2) no set of preferences (values) are 'better' than any other set of preferences.

I personally think that bad markets don't exist, unless there is some sort of externality. If having a fake girlfriend has an externality, then perhaps BAD as a title could apply.

The slant, the agenda, of Cowen might be to add his piece of opinion on certain markets.

To me, Walmart is a bad market, but do they make lots of money and grow and 'succeed?' They just do it without MY support.

So, it's like a can of worms to apply titles as 'bad' to markets, if you ask me (you didn't, but your post attracts questioningly) the fun, the trick, the peculiarity of economics is finding where in the spectrum of interactions (markets) one finds him/herself prefering!

It is for politics (bad markets in my opinion!) to be the realm of where some people can have 'say' over other people and their preferences.

Now, with the dating pool the way it is, what is that fake girlfriend website, again...