Love is costly

Falling in love—beginning a new roman­tic relationship—costs you 2 friends, accord­ing to this story from the BBC report­ing on a study by evo­lu­tion­ary anthro­pol­o­gists from Oxford University. As the BBC’s Jonathan Amos explained,

[The] researchers asked peo­ple about their inner core of friend­ships and how this num­ber changed when romance entered the equation.

They found the core, which num­bers about five peo­ple, dropped by two as a new lover came to dom­i­nate daily life.

The story makes abun­dant sense: being in a rela­tion­ship requires time and energy, and being in a roman­tic rela­tion­ship requires even more. Strike that. Being in a mod­ern roman­tic rela­tion­ship requires a whole lot more. It wasn’t always so. As Digby Anderson explained in Losing Friends, roman­tic relationships—and the family—have come to be seen as “the repos­i­tory of all virtues.

It wasn’t always so, though. Friends played a key role in our ances­tors lives, and (based on my read­ing of Stephanie Coontz’ Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage), I ques­tion whether romance and mar­riage can bear the weight we mod­erns place on it. What if, instead of attempt­ing to find our “best friends” in marriage—and what can that mean in an age where “BFF” is bandied about in a decid­edly unforever-​​like fashion—we found romance, affec­tion, and famil­ial ties in mar­riage, and then spread our com­pan­ion­ship among our fam­i­lies and friends?

H/​t Freakonomics.

Principles Against Interests

Should you sup­port poli­cies that go against your per­sonal pref­er­ences? For exam­ple, if you hap­pen to like opera or clas­si­cal music, would it be wrong to oppose gov­ern­ment fund­ing of the arts? I hap­pen to be just the sort of opera lover who doesn’t like that his favorite art form suck­les heav­ily at the gov­ern­ment teat. (A side note: It has been heart­en­ing to see the Metropolitan Opera exper­i­ment with new ways of get­ting opera to the masses—like live HD broad­casts of mat­inée per­for­mances at movie theaters—to make it more rel­e­vant and more likely to sur­vive with­out gov­ern­ment fund­ing in the future.) If gov­ern­ment sup­port for opera were cut, I would be dis­mayed because opera would be less avail­able than it is right now, but deep down I would be pleased. I don’t want to sub­si­dize music I don’t enjoy (I’m look­ing at you, Mr. Death Metal), and I don’t expect oth­ers to pay for my music, either.

Eric Morris, a UCLA trans­porta­tion scholar who writes for the Freakonomics blog, points to him­self and Randal O’Toole as exam­ples of peo­ple who oppose poli­cies that align with their per­sonal pref­er­ences. Both of them are train enthu­si­asts: the sorts of fel­lows who play Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon and have model train tracks in their base­ments. Despite their pref­er­ences, they both oppose gov­ern­ment sup­port for high speed rail in the U.S. O’Toole, a senior fel­low at the Cato Institute who inspires strong feel­ings in the plan­ning com­mu­nity, points to his train love to explain that no, he doesn’t just hate trains. Instead, he explains his oppo­si­tion to fund­ing for rail projects this way: “I don’t expect tax­pay­ers to sub­si­dize these pref­er­ences any more than if I liked hot-​​air bal­loons or midget submarines.”

Morris goes on to raise the ques­tion of prin­ci­ples ver­sus preferences:

Is sup­port­ing poli­cies that go com­pletely counter to one’s own per­sonal pref­er­ences to be admired or abhorred? Some might find it eccen­tric, and it cer­tainly is a minor­ity trait. My expe­ri­ence has been that most peo­ple in this world assume that oth­ers share their likes, and if they don’t, they will do so with just a lit­tle per­sua­sion. In some cases this may be true. But regard­less, this is cer­tainly a con­ve­nient out­look because it means there is a happy coin­ci­dence: the best path to doing self­less good for oth­ers just hap­pens to be pro­mot­ing pub­lic poli­cies that cater to one’s own self-​​interest.

To be hon­est, I’d never quite thought of the pos­si­bil­ity that sup­port­ing poli­cies that go counter to one’s per­sonal pref­er­ences might be abhor­rent. On the con­trary, I find it admirable, and a sign that the sup­port is well-​​thought-​​out and that the pol­icy prob­a­bly deserves a closer look. After all, it’s a rar­ity for some­one to oppose his own pref­er­ences, because arriv­ing at such a posi­tion  involves (a) admit­ting that  one’s pref­er­ences are a lit­tle off and (b) poten­tially depriv­ing one­self of the plea­sure that would come from see­ing one’s pref­er­ences come to fruition. I sup­pose it’s pos­si­ble that some­one might be knee-​​jerk anti-​​preference, but that pos­si­bil­ity seems slim. Am I unusual in think­ing that way?


Matthew Yglesias uses an unli­censed bar­ber—himself—and seems to man­age just fine with­out it. I did the same thing for roughly two years, and lived to tell the tale. But should Yglesias or I try to sell our ser­vices to other peo­ple, he or I would run straight into the D.C. Barber and Cosmetology Board, which requires 1,500 hours of train­ing. What does one spend 1,500 hours of cos­me­tol­ogy train­ing doing? 40 hours learn­ing how to sham­poo­ing (mas­sage sham­poo into hair, rinse, repeat); 50 hours learn­ing per­sonal hygiene (wash your hands after using the restroom); 150 hours study­ing anatomy, phys­i­ol­ogy, bac­te­ri­ol­ogy, pathol­ogy, chem­istry, and elec­tric­ity (use clean equip­ment between cus­tomers); and another 1,260 doing other sim­i­lar tasks. Learning to cut hair? 100 hours.

One shouldn’t have to spend 100 hours of learn­ing how to cut hair—plus 1,400 hours learn­ing other related (and unre­lated) subjects—before offer­ing to cut oth­ers’ hair for money. Yes: there are poten­tial dan­gers in using sharp tools and caus­tic chem­i­cals around peo­ple. But it seems unlikely that 1,500 hours of train­ing is nec­es­sary to train a would-​​be hair­styl­ist not to run with scis­sors and to fol­low the instruc­tions on the perm box. All jok­ing aside, though, the dan­ger is rel­a­tively low, and what dan­ger there is is already addressed through the harm to rep­u­ta­tion and the civil lia­bil­ity that would fol­low sloppy or dan­ger­ous work. I have some­one else cut my hair now (Ryan P. at Bang Salon Metropole, in case you want to know), and I wouldn’t go to some­one who hadn’t had some train­ing, but that’s because I think a trained hair­styl­ist can con­sis­tently make my hair pre­sentable. I couldn’t care less whether the Barber and Cosmetology Board has seen fit to give some­one cre­den­tials; being employed at a rep­utable salon that would only hire some­one trained is enough for me.

Jonathan Adler points out that major sup­port­ers of licens­ing regimes are often the very folks who would ben­e­fit from lim­it­ing poten­tial competitors:

Licenses restrict entry and reduce  com­pe­ti­tion, enabling  those with licenses to cap­ture more rents.  This is actu­ally the case with most licens­ing regimes, even those that appear to serve a greater pub­lic inter­est than bar­ber licenses.  Though I doubt Yglesias would go this far, I would argue that it’s rare that a licens­ing regime of this sort is put in place with­out the sup­port of those who stand to ben­e­fit eco­nom­i­cally, and that many pub­lic spir­ited ratio­nales, includ­ing health and safety, are a smokescreen.

Adler goes on to note that licens­ing and inspec­tion often becomes a tool for char­ac­ters who exploit their abil­ity to grant or deny licenses and note or ignore infractions.

It’s also impor­tant to remem­ber that the cre­ation of a licens­ing, per­mit­ting and inspec­tion, or other reg­u­la­tory regime hardly guar­an­tees pro­tec­tion of the pub­lic inter­est, even if the sys­tem was not cre­ated for rent-​​seeking pur­poses in the first place.  Government reg­u­la­tors and inspec­tors are peo­ple too, and may shirk their respon­si­bil­i­ties, become cor­rupted, or oth­er­wise fail to safe­guard the pub­lic inter­est.  In many major cities, licens­ing and other local reg­u­la­tory regimes are oppor­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion and graft.

Barber licens­ing, then, seems not only unnec­es­sary and harm­ful to com­pe­ti­tion, but also prone to abuse: more trou­ble than it’s worth.