A thought bubble about reciprocation

Here’s a classic scene: a weary traveller walks through an airport. A flower is pushed into his hands by a religious adherent, who then hints that a contribution to the religious order would be welcome — but no obligation, of course, the flower was a gift.

Yet the traveller cannot shake the nagging guilt arising from reciprocity and begrudgingly throws some coins into a bowl.

Reciprocity is a powerful human instinct (see Robert Cialdini’s Influence for an entertaining discussion). I can only suppose, in the usual hand-wavy way one must when such situations arise, that it favoured our ancestors. “Tit for tat” strategies have long been recognised as the “best” performers in many game theoretic situations. If you cooperate, everyone comes out ahead. So reciprocity would be inborn.

Now imagine this also-classic scene: a pretty young lady is sitting at a bar. A young man, full of confidence, walks up and offers to buy her a drink, which she accepts.

Does she “owe” the young man anything? It is a matter of political and social dispute whether, because of the sexual undertones, she does. If our analysis was purely concerned with reciprocity, then yes — she “owes”.

But what does she owe?

Here a strange thing occurs. If reciprocity is to mean anything, then the value of goods or services exchanged ought to be more or less “equal” in the eyes of the parties, or else it won’t happen.

But in a reciprocity situation, one party has placed the other under obligation. In a normal market exchange you can simply choose not to come to agreement; in a reciprocity scenario one party has already committed the pair to have some of transaction.

How to value the repayment? It seems to me to turn largely on each party’s marginal value for the original gift.

Say, for example, that the young man is poor. To him that purchased drink might represent a painful fraction of his weekly income. He probably expects that it is worth a high-value reciprocation — to the point that some men think they are “owed” sexual favours, after which things can go dreadfully wrong.

Contrariwise, to a wealthy man, the drink might merely be worth a brief conversation. He places less value on the drink, so he expects less reciprocation.

But the woman may not see it that way. If to her the drink is expensive, she may feel that a greater reciprocal obligation has been created than the man does.

Isn’t that odd? The reciprocating party has substituted their own valuation of the gift for the giver’s valuation. The only moves left are to reciprocate at one’s own valuation, to feel guilt by failing to reciprocate at one’s own valuation, or to refuse to accept the gift in the first place.

This might also explain why many couples where one partner is rich and the other isn’t may break up: the wealthy partner feels no sting at being generous, the poorer partner feels that they are under an ever-escalating obligation which cannot be repaid.

(Before you ask: no, I have not been cruising the bars buying drinks for young ladies — I’ve been reading essays by FA Hayek…)

Posted in Economics and public policy, Thought Bubbles | 2 Comments

My experience with WPEngine (tl;dr, they sucked)

Today I read this by Jason Cohen. It’s an advertisement for WPEngine, masquerading as a missive about sustainable companies. In it Jason tries to talk up his company by virtue of the halo effect, comparing WPEngine to companies like HubSpot, Freshbooks, SEOMoz and Rackspace.

If my personal experience is anything to go by, it’s bullshit. A few months ago I tried to migrate a small blog network to WPEngine and every aspect of the experience was a total clusterfuck. The service was poor, the documentation was wrong, I’m still haggling over a $500 bill and worst of all, my sites were regularly unavailable during their WPE tenure.

Update 25 October: Ben Metcalfe has made a nice apology on HN and emailed to arrange refunding the WebSiteMovers invoice (which I’ve now paid). While I cannot, based on my own experience, recommend WPEngine; I nevertheless consider the matter to be settled.

Update 5 November: The refund has landed in my account. Thanks Ben.

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Posted in Rants, Site News | 122 Comments

Waltzing with Bears

September 28, 2012

Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister are probably best known for the book Peopleware (unreviewed). It’s a justly famous book in my industry, containing as it does generous lashings of both wit and wisdom. Sadly, it is a book more honoured … Continue reading

Pricing is the driving force of a market place, allowing coordination of self-interested agents across wide divides of time, space and culture. And that’s as it may be. “But what price should I”, asks the frustrated manager or small business … Continue reading

Anatomy Without a Scalpel by Lon Kilgore can’t escape the simple fact that anatomy is, in no small part, mind-numbing. It does give a good try. Kilgore is probably known to many readers as the coauthor, with iconic strength coach … Continue reading

Good service

Right now I have a problem with my left shoulder, in the AC joint. Basically the doctor’s instructions are: rest.

Given how long it’s taken to get over my storied knee problems, the timing of this is … maddening. I spent most of last week discovering what exercises I could still do without aggravating the AC joint. Not many.

To try and keep my legs in the training picture, I bought an IronMind Squat Belt. These odd contraptions superficially resemble a rock-climbing harness and indeed have some parts in common, including two carabiners.

When I ordered my belt from Australian stockists IronEdge, the belt only arrived with one carabiner. It looks like this:

I was able to get by first by using the less-convenient carabiners at the Musclepit gym, then yesterday by buying a carabiner at a local rock climbing gym. (As an aside: those places are creepy — oddly coloured walls that lean in at you from weird angles … yikes).

I mentioned the missing carabiner to IronEdge. Today I received an express delivery from them, inside was this:

Clearly different.

But here’s the thing: this picture shows that somebody from IronEdge went to their local rock climbing gym, felt the same sense of encroaching Lovecraftian doom, navigated the oddly-dressed crowd of hipsters to a supply shop, bought a more expensive carabiner than I did and then sent it by express courier.

For no extra charge.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is good service.

Posted in Business, Weightlifting | 2 Comments

The title alone will have driven off everyone from my non-weights circle of friends. Optimizing Strength Training is a book by William J. Kraemer and Steven J. Fleck. Quite aside from the American fondness for initialling their names in print, … Continue reading

3 Weightlifting Books

August 13, 2012

I bought a bunch of weightlifting-related books recently, some from IronMind and some from Amazon.com. Today I’ll briefly review three of them. Olympic-Style Weightlifting for the Beginner and Intermediate Lifter by Jim Schmitz. Bought from IronMind. This is not really … Continue reading

One of the unsung benefits of stable employment in a place with a relatively rigid union contract is that you are expected and required to take your full lunch break. No subtle hints are dropped that we could really use … Continue reading

The two faces of Amazon.com

Amazon is a marvel of the modern age. Cheap books, shipped worldwide at ever-cheaper rates. Very cheap indeed if you bought a Kindle (I have a DX. I love it).

There’s one problem: sometimes you don’t actually buy the book from Amazon. It’s coming from a third party.

Today I placed an order for several books. One cost $59.38.

And when I got the Amazon confirmation, I saw that this book was being sold from a third party who proposes to charge me $59.95 to post a single book to me. The rest of the books being sent by Amazon are costing $20 to ship.

I’ve sent a message requesting a cancellation.

In future my view is that if something on Amazon isn’t being fulfilled by Amazon, then it’s simply not available on Amazon.

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