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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Opportunity Cost: What We Treasure Depends On Our Goals

Chapter 14 of My Life and Times at Purdue University


In thinking over a conversation started last night, the following flows out of all things a vulgar (meant: humorous) response I had. 

A woman I’ve known better via the net than in real life (even though we attended high school and were friends as that time frame allowed), put a question up as to what cure-all elixir would we create for all humanity. I took the humor route: a frigidity pill.

While only humorous to most men, the topic progressed (digressed) on to the pertinent idea of investments. In relationships, we have to do this always. Time and money are the fuel to making one’s love, or friendship life more rewarding. If you don’t, the whole mess will get rather barren pretty soon. And the return on investment (ROI) becomes negative, and more questionable, down the road.

In economics study, such investments are geared toward funding projects, starting up new businesses, and acquisition of materials to build up, replace, or lay the framework for a new system. (Unless you are Wall Street – then – you create “financial engineering and innovation.”)  But these investments (monetary or time-constrained) can tend towards the personal satisfaction or welfare as my macroeconomics textbook writer, Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, wrote on his blog posting, “Good Academic, Bad HumanBeing” at gregmankiw.blogspot.com:

“It all comes down to the definition of ‘good academic economist.’ If your goal is to maximize the probability of winning a Nobel prize, or at least to climb up as high as you can on citation rankings, then this advice is correct. [Regarding success and focus in graduate school, and on into, academia.] Real world experiences and outside interests are a distraction. Don't take time off from academic pursuits for a job in public policy. Don't ever work on Wall Street or do any consulting. Don't engage in the broader societal debate by writing op-eds or working on political campaigns. All of that takes time away from getting papers published in academic journals.

But don't stop there. If you have this objective, then it is best not to have hobbies, or read novels, or go to the movies. Don't spend time teaching well or mentoring students, except the very best students who can help you with your research. Don't get married or have friends, unless your spouse and friends are PhD economists and can coauthor papers with you. Whatever you do, don't have children--boy, are they a time sink! And if you make the mistake of having children, make sure you spend as little time with them as you can.”

Very funny, and often, I have felt and acted this way too.

For a decade, I have not gone out with a woman. I have made only minor investments of time and money into such situations. And low and behold, my investments have been all lost! A female reading would say, “how about being friends first? Or what did you expect out of your burger or talking-her-to-death-to-get-to-know-her strategy?” You are right. But a greater point is to be had here. [And more reasons why I did as such...some readers may even know.]

In life, there are some persons that will never get much from social contact. They go down a different track, find themselves unable to divert to the well-rounded normalcy of life well-led, so-called, by a modestly pretentious professor at an elitist university. These quirky people’s investments are tied to a desire for intense study, designing, creative research, and a lasting legacy based on the giving up on the family cookouts, the nights at the theatre, the frolicking in the sack, and the joys of ballgames with the little ones. It is an opportunity cost; that which is forsaken for the investment in another, hopefully, creative and lasting endeavor towards the betterment of humanity.

As discussed in the Preface section, many economists were of suspect character, or unusual living aspects.  The “dismal science” is filled to the gills with characters you would not want as “dad” or “mom.”  Yet, some find that work, too – and either have life balance, or divorce, I suppose.

For my own part, I wonder what choices to make. I certainly have a desire for a family, a wife, kid(s), etc. But I am once again on the cusp of forty. Not that it means it is over, but time is not on my side in that game. And since we’ve discussed my mediocrity in that pursuit in Chapter 1, it is rather pointless to believe I’ll become like these players (PUAs) called: “The Gambler” or “Mystery”, who, have mastered the subtle communication dance, the verbal pacing of their sexual prey, and thus, the acquisition of their modest human assets, “invigorating their flesh”, when out “clubbing.” (Again, female reading – it is more complex than that. But picture painted. I am The 40-year Virgin movie.)

Unlike said females, whom are blessed (if seemingly cursed), to be a creative force through natural child birth, lonely male souls stay as such. Seems mundane, but women do have that leg up. Likely, as not, a few guys deemed it useful to put their efforts into masterpieces of art, or literature, or construction trades, solely due to the jealousy (or the humiliating rejection) of a woman. Better than the other alternatives.


What we treasure is based on our goals. Citation rankings are just like NFL power rankings. Or Fortune 500 best CEO rankings. Or maybe, Maxim’s 100 hottest women decided by readers. It is chart of progress, or lack, in our lives. A measuring system since there is a clearly definable or visibly attainable goal or trophy – to climb towards, or achieve. While it is seen as crass, many “normal people” laud praise on this progression up the charts even with the sacrifices made to being more “normally human”, whatever that means in this expanding world spectrum. While too, in God’s eyes, it gets us nowhere; for some, it is all they have left before they meet the “Big Kahuna in Sky.” The making due with the talents or skills you have, ignoring the opportunity costs of another avenue.  
 My opportunity cost will be at the end game of this college run. What will it be?  – to be continued…and contemplated.
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