Viviana Zelizer on Money and Intimacy
Feb 26 2007

Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University sociologist, talks about the ideas in her new book, The Purchase of Intimacy. Does money ruin intimacy? Does intimacy ruin our commercial transactions? Zelizer and host Russ Roberts have a lively conversation on the sometimes contentious border between economics and sociology.

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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Matt C.
Mar 1 2007 at 12:10pm

In the “Epistemological Problems of Economics”, in the introduction by Jorg Guido Hulsmann, speaks to how Mises argued that Sociology and Economics were one and the same. The basic idea is covered beginning on page xiv. I have included a link to the text. I think it is highly correlated links between sociology and economics.

One thing I think is often forgotten in sociology is the subjective value of different actions.

Mar 2 2007 at 3:00pm

Two points:

1) I really enjoyed this podcast’s multidisciplinary extension to sociology. As a student of economics, I am trying to be open-minded to different approaches to human behaviour.

Prof Roberts’ talk with Dr. Zelizer alerts us to the fact that economists are logically rigorous, exceedingly clever, and amazingly insightful. Sky’s the limit if only they would be willing to step outside the neoclassical box.

2) Prof Roberts’ quote of Hayek during the talk was pervasive. Period.

Unfortunately that great man is often disregarded by many as an idealogue. On the contrary, he was deep and understood that economics is not the only useful social science.

Great job Russell…I’m anxious to hear your talk with Tyler Cowen!

Andrew McG
Mar 8 2007 at 3:58pm

It’s a shame the commitment (in the game theoretic sense) aspect of making emotional bonds didn’t come up, as it did in the discussion of religion with Larry Iannaccone last year. I think it’s central to the whole issue of trying to separate the intimate from the public.

Comments are closed.




Podcast Episode Highlights
0:58When does offering to pay for something interfere with intimate relationships? Example: You pay for food at a store, but not if a friend brings over some food after you have a baby. Cultural norm about money and intimacy: "Mix the two and each will corrupt the other." Is this misguided? Blurring of relationships and financial transactions. Gifts vs. tips.
6:08Separate spheres, hostile worlds. Standard assumption is that economic sphere differs from intimacy, close ties (family, friendship, etc.); and that if you mix them they will contaminate each other. Does payment interfere with intimacy (e.g., do loans between friends damage friendships)? Does an increase in intimacy reduce economic efficiency (e.g., if you get friendly with your boss, does it interfere with your work)? But it's more complicated. The separation is in reality a mix. Positive vs. normative economics. It's not just money transactions but exchange in general.
11:11Normative side: Is the blurring a good thing? Why do we have such emotional reactions? First question, though, is why does the mixing occur and why do we feel so strongly? We use it as a kind of magic spell or story to keep away "evils", e.g., "I'm not just a hired maid, I'm like a mother to your kid". We are uncomfortable with money, yet the transaction is still going on; but we want to be special. "We deploy the 'separate spheres' ideology to manage the kind of threat of our good relationships' seeming too much like bad ones." Should we worry about this? We should not worry as a general matter, but instead about what kind of mixtures are involved--e.g., are they unfair, exploitative, or do they enhance our lives?
18:44Examples: Athletes, Lottery winners, Child actors all immediately broadcast that money hasn't changed them. Large changes in economic circumstances get normalized by maintaining earlier relationships, protecting against exploitation; and convey the meaning of normalcy. Brooke Shields's allowance. What kind of relationships do we want?
23:05Organ donation, adoption--pros and cons of such new markets bring highly charged emotions. Is introducing money inherently a negative? Kieran Healy, Last Best Gifts. "Nothing But Economics" argument (the "pure market argument"): People who worry about mixing economics and intimacy are misguided simply because all markets can be reduced to same underlying cost-benefit model. Cars, plasma televisions. George Stigler: "There is only one social science and we are its practitioners." But is that correct? Contrast the work of Gary Becker. Model recognizes that household exchanges already have an economic component. But ultimately even that doesn't recognize the fact that underpinning any kind of markets are different kinds of social relations that people have, different markets have different meanings. A single market model has to be blind to the reality that there are multiple markets each composed by different kinds of meaning systems and values. We have to know the underlying differences to explain or predict properly.
31:14But doesn't supply and demand still work? Too general, can't explain all markets from an analysis that basic. Baby farm market in late 20th century. Why certain kinds of children? Which markets spring up, vs. what happens within a given market; is what happens in each market dependent on the particular goods traded in that market or perhaps on the conditions under which it sprang up? Dialog between economics and sociology has sprung up and allows discussion of these possibilities.
35:04Friedrich Hayek, hostile worlds. The Fatal Conceit, p. 18:
Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once. [italics original]
Is it a mistake to run a business as if it were a family? is it a mistake to run a nation as a family? Should corporations be run in a more loving way? Is organizational efficiency is threatened by any kind of intimacy within the organization. Vicki Schultz, Yale, The Sanitized Workplace. Family firms, evidence not strong. Corporate responsibility. Might not workplace become less interesting and less productive if it is sterilized of all forming of interpersonal relationships? Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, baggage claim, empathy example. Top-down construction of intimacy, mentoring, fake, P.R., but maybe some is authentic. Bottom-up construction of intimacy: spontaneous, may not contribute to efficiency directly but maybe they do so in more roundabout ways. MIT on referral systems.
50:08Paid care. From SF Chronicle, "Mom, Dad, stop your crying -- you can hire a parenting coach" by Ilene Lelchuk, Aug. 20, 2006:
These days, it's possible to outsource nearly every part of parenting--except maybe the hugs--as a burgeoning industry springs up in the Bay Area and major cities around the country to help busy, well-financed moms and dads who lack either the time or the self-confidence to do what past generations of parents did by themselves.
This new growth industry also includes potty trainers, party planners who specialize in the under-10 set and lice removal experts. Yes, Bay Area parents can even hire someone to come to their house and pick the nits out of their loved ones' locks.
Is this a great example of specialization or a horrifying example of the workplace inserting itself into private matters? We should not assume that paid care depletes love; nor should we assume that no pay--work done by family--necessarily guarantees good care. Pros and cons to each when they are mixed. How do we achieve the right mix?