B S Raghavan

Marriage as a business

Updated on: Jun 19, 2011

All the world's a peculiar market place; here, everything and everyone has a price-tag; and everything is a traded and tradable item: So ran an old Hindi film song. Well, it only summed up the reality of every aspect of life being determined predominantly by the need and nature of economic transactions.

Although he is now in some sort of an intellectual and ideological doghouse, Karl Marx was the first to assert that every other discipline, including every human activity, is preordained and shaped by economic compulsions.

He was not far off the mark when he propounded the theses that economic dimensions of class struggle were the fundamental determinant of history and culture, that the entire modern history of capitalist societies was bound up with the relationship between labour and capital and that even legal institutions function with the unstated objective of legitimising economic results at every stage of the economic process.

But even Marx dared not view matrimony as a function of economics, or being determined by the well-known economic goal of safeguarding, maximising and allocating resources of every description. And certainly, he did not look upon marriage as a business for whose success the return on investment made by the husband and wife in terms of time, energy and money, and the trade-offs between equity and efficiency, were crucial.

That part of the proposition has been handled by Paula Szuchman, a page one editor of the Wall Street Journal and Jenny Anderson, a reporter, in their book, Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes , a delectable review of which has been published in the Knowledge@Wharton Web site edition of May 4.

Tongue-in-cheek

On the surface, it may seem tongue-in-cheek, but it offers a number of interesting comparisons and sharp insights; heeding them may bring some much needed wisdom to the perspective of estranged or drifting couples and serve to save many a marriage.

“Think of marriage as a business comprising two partners,” the authors say. “You're not only business partners in the sense that you work together for the good of your company, you're also trading partners who exchange goods and services, often in the form of household chores. How should you decide who does what?” A correct decision has to be based, as in the case of market economy, on comparative advantage, and not simply on blind assumptions of masculine and feminine traits and capabilities.

“Like two countries, married people also exchange goods and services, and each also brings to the table a different set of abilities and interests. By figuring out which of them has the comparative advantage in a range of tasks, from dishes to dog walking to bulb planting, (they) could then decide who would specialise in what”.

Courtship bubbles

The book likens to economic bubbles the overvaluations that courting couples make of each other in the phase of “giddy infatuation”, overlooking, in the same way as countries do in respect of bubbles, the warning signs that, in retrospect, were so very glaring.

However, just as economic bubbles with their “creative destruction” (as Joseph Schumpeter would say) serve the essential purpose of cleansing the economy and helping it revitalise itself and become more vibrant and productive, courtship bubbles too, when they burst, bring about a catharsis that can stand the couple in good stead.

I can sense your impatience to know where libido fares in all this. Is it also governed by the laws of economics? Yes, sex is merely a function of supply and demand, say the authors and even plot it along a supply-and-demand curve, saying that couples can boost the amount of sex they have by bringing its cost down: “Lower the costs. Do that, and the quantity demanded will rise almost instantly!”

What costs, where and how to cut them? And how soon?

Ah, that's a secret I would rather keep to myself and not share with you!

Published on June 24, 2011

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