Lessons in Love, by Way of Economics

 

By Ben Stein

AS my fine professor of economics at Columbia, C. Lowell Harriss (who just celebrated his 96th birthday) used to tell us, economics is the study of the allocation of scarce goods and services. What could be scarcer or more precious than love? It is rare, hard to come by and often fragile.

 

My primary life study has been about love. Second comes economics, so here, in the form of a few rules, is a little amalgam of the two fields: the economics of love. (I last wrote about this subject 20 years or so ago, and it’s time to update it.)

 

 

In general, and with rare exceptions, the returns in love situations are roughly proportional to the amount of time and devotion invested. The amount of love you get from an investment in love is correlated, if only roughly, to the amount of yourself you invest in the relationship.

 

If you invest caring, patience and unselfishness, you get those things back. (This assumes, of course, that you are having a relationship with someone who loves you, and not a one-sided love affair with someone who isn’t interested.)

 

 

High-quality bonds consistently yield more return than junk, and so it is with high-quality love. As for the returns on bonds, I know that my comment will come as a surprise to people who have been brainwashed into thinking that junk bonds are free money. They aren’t. The data from the maven of bond research, W. Braddock Hickman, shows that junk debt outperforms high quality only in rare situations, because of the default risk.

 

In love, the data is even clearer. Stay with high-quality human beings. And once you find that you are in a junk relationship, sell immediately. Junk situations can look appealing and seductive, but junk is junk. Be wary of it unless you control the market.

 

(Or, as I like to tell college students, the absolutely surest way to ruin your life is to have a relationship with someone with many serious problems, and to think that you can change this person.)

 

 

Research pays off. The most appealing and seductive (that word again) exterior can hide the most danger and chance of loss. For most of us, diversification in love, at least beyond a very small number, is impossible, so it’s necessary to do a lot of research on the choice you make. It is a rare man or woman who can resist the outward and the surface. But exteriors can hide far too much.

 

 

In every long-term romantic situation, returns are greater when there is a monopoly. If you have to share your love with others, if you have to compete even after a brief while with others, forget the whole thing. You want to have monopoly bonds with your long-term lover. At least most situations work out better this way. ( I am too old to consider short-term romantic events. Those were my life when Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were in the White House.)

 

 

The returns on your investment should at least equal the cost of the investment. If you are getting less back than you put in over a considerable period of time, back off.

 

 

Long-term investment pays off. The impatient day player will fare poorly without inside information or market-controlling power. He or she will have a few good days but years of agony in the world of love.

 

To coin a phrase: Fall in love in haste, repent at leisure.

 

 

Realistic expectations are everything. If you have unrealistic expectations, they will rarely be met. If you think that you can go from nowhere to having someone wonderful in love with you, you are probably wrong.

 

You need expectations that match reality before you can make some progress. There may be exceptions, but they are rare.

 

 

When you have a winner, stick with your winner. Whether in love or in the stock market, winners are to be prized.

 

 

Have a dog or many dogs or cats in your life. These are your anchors to windward and your unfailing source of love.

 

Ben Franklin summed it up well. In times of stress, the three best things to have are an old dog, an old wife and ready money. How right he was.

 

THERE is more that could be said about the economics of love, but these thoughts may divert you while you are thinking about your future.

 

And let me close with another thought. I am far from glib about the economy. It has a lot of pitfalls facing it. As workers and investors, we know that many dangers lurk in our paths.

 

But so far, these things have always worked themselves out and this one will, too. In the meantime, they say that falling in love is wonderful, and that the best is falling in love with what you have.

愛情經濟學看似兩種不相干甚至互斥的事物,然而其實愛情也是一種投資,也需要盤算計較,有人賺到終身幸福,有人賠到痛不欲生。美國著名經濟學家、政經評論家、電視節目主持人班.史坦(Ben Stein)在紐約時報撰文,道出其中奧祕:

     我在紐約哥倫比亞大學的經濟學老師哈里斯告訴學生:經濟學就是研究如何分配稀有商品與勞務的一門學問。這世上還有什麼比愛情更稀有珍貴?愛情不僅稀有、難得,而且往往相當脆弱。我這輩子主修的學問其實是愛情,其次才是經濟學。因此本文要融合這兩個領域,提出「愛情經濟學」(the economics of love)的運作規則。

     投資與收益

     一般而言,愛情收益與你投資的時間和心力大致上成正比。如果你投入的是關懷、耐心與無私,那麼你也會得到這三種收益。當然,愛情不能是一廂情願的苦戀,對方也必須愛你。

     優質投資對象

     在債券市場上,有人堅信垃圾債券是發大財的終南捷徑。其實不然,高信用品質債券的殖利率總是高於垃圾債券。愛情亦復如是,你必須投資優質的對象,找到了就長期持有,一旦變質趕快脫手。垃圾愛情或許像垃圾債券一樣金玉其外,然而垃圾終究是垃圾。

     下工夫作研究

     想靠投資賺錢就得好好做功課,想擁有美好愛情不能指望運氣,尤其切記不要只注重外表,光鮮亮麗的誘惑可能潛藏危機陷阱。對大多數人而言,愛情不太可能分散投資,因此我們在選定對象之前,一定要下一番研究工夫。

     壟斷才是王道

     獨門生意想不賺錢也難,長期的感情關係也應該從一而終,不能心懷貳志。如果你的愛情被第三者分一杯羹,如果競爭者威脅已經出現,那麼還是做個了斷吧。

     衡量成本收益

     愛情的投資要精打細算,虧本生意做不得也。投資一段時間之後,如果收益還是不敷成本,建議你考慮認賠殺出。

     需作長期投資

     但是,成功的愛情投資也需要長遠的眼光。以股市為喻,做當日沖銷的炒家如果沒有內幕消息或者操控市場的能耐,殺進殺出的結果恐怕是丟盔棄甲。回到愛情領域,短暫的天雷勾動地火固然刺激,終究不如細水長流的兩相廝守。

     避免不切實際

     保持務實心態非常重要。如果你的期望太不切實際,失望落空的風險自然居高不下。就算撿到天上掉下來的禮物,只怕包裝紙拆掉之後,你會消受不了。

     要珍惜眼前人

     如果你已經擁有美好的情感關係,一定要好好珍惜,不要見異思遷。好不容易找到績優股,當然不應該賣。

     養狗貓有寄託

     養幾隻貓貓狗狗生活樂趣無窮,讓我們更能夠面對人生的逆境,享受不虞匱乏的情感滋潤。

     富蘭克林說的好:「世上只有三位最忠實的朋友﹔老妻,老狗和現金。」

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