Book review: The Purchase of Intimacy by Viviana A. Zelizer
This book provides a convincing argument that even though many people talk as if intimacy and the exchange of money belong in separate spheres that would contaminate each other if mixed, most people regularly behave in ways that mix them. She provides an alternate view under which a more narrow set of restrictions on the use of money helps prevent specific types of relationships from being transformed into some less desired category of relationship.
The arguments are phrased to appeal to a wide range of ideologies (but probably not the religious right). But the style is dry, and the numerous legal cases and other examples quickly become tedious and often unneeded. It’s hard to imagine what kind of person would want to read more than the first 100 pages plus the final chapter.
She uses a broader definition of intimacy than I expected, but provides plenty of hints as to why that is appropriate.
One nice example of her evidence is the fact that buying a pet doesn’t prevent people from loving the pet.
One strange passage which raises a few doubts about the otherwise apparently good research behind the book is the definition of “the unfamiliar term polyamory” which makes no reference to love and hints that it typically refers to non-romantic relationships.
Archive for May, 2007
Book review: The Purchase of Intimacy by Viviana A. Zelizer
One obstacle to replacing proprietary peer-reviewed journals with open alternatives is the difficulty of getting good peer review.
The approach of having authors pay publishers to arrange the peer review will probably have some success, but appears to be a recipe for much slower than optimal migration to open publishing due to the incentives it provides for authors to stick with proprietary journals.
More radical alternatives usually raise doubts about whether their quality will rival traditional peer review, due to lack of incentives for someone to ensure that the peer review is done by disinterested peers.
My idea is to have a system where anyone can review papers that have been registered within the system. The reviews would be made public, without identifying the reviewer.
The system would reward reviewers with a reputation. Reviewers would have their reputation score increased if a paper they positively review is widely cited, or a paper they negatively review is retracted (by a larger amount, to offset the lower frequency of this result).
It ought to be possible to convince universities to give this score some weight in tenure decisions, and if so that would ensure an abundant supply of reviewers who are at least as objective as under the current system.
The simplest implementation of this would impair the anonymity of reviewers by enabling people to connect changes in scores with the timing of citations and retractions. That could probably be dealt with by adding a random delay before a score is recalculated.
The ideas I recently described about the similarities between abolishing slavery and debtors prisons have got me thinking about the similarities between no-fault divorce and the ease with which an employer can dismiss employees.
Attitudes about whether the breakup of a romantic relationship indicate that someone was at fault have influenced how easy it is to end such relationships. In subcultures I see here in Silicon Valley where it isn’t expected that people will assign any blame when a relationship ends, there is less cost to breakups (the people involved are more likely to remain friends). This means there is probably more trial and error in picking relationships (possibly at the cost of each individual relationship being valued less than in cultures where people are expected to make a marriage last a lifetime).
Silicon Valley also has a culture which attaches little importance to an employee leaving a job, and I suspect this extends to employees who get fired as well. The relatively high turnover means more acceptance of trial and error by both employees and employers, less damaging disputes when an employee leaves, and ease of a former employee getting a new job. This contributes to Silicon Valley’s success at enabling startups. (These comments are loosely based on my recollection of Annalee Saxenian’s book Regional Advantage).
Are these two sets of phenomena symptoms of one underlying attitude?
Is the casual attitude toward romantic relationships producing advantages similar to the advantages that Silicon Valley produces for startups?
Can a better understanding of these similarities help spread the Silicon Valley attitude toward employment to other regions?
The jury system in the U.S. originated in times when most communities were small enough that jurors were likely to feel close enough to defendants to have tribal/friendship/etc desires not to convict someone without cause, and to be sufficiently at risk from a defendant’s future crimes to take some care not to acquit the guilty. But today, those motives have broken down in many urban and suburban places, and trials are often decided by those who are too dumb to get off jury duty.
I don’t have good ideas for ensuring that jurors are chosen so that they feel like they’re part of the same small community as the defendant, so I’m hoping instead to create new incentives for jurors to care about verdicts.
Simply increasing the pay for serving on a jury would help to avoid the problem of jurors being selected for low intelligence, but I can’t tell how much of the problem that would solve.
I propose a additional ways of rewarding jurors based on results. If the jurors acquit, the jurors could get some large payment in 5 or 10 years if the defendant commits no crimes during that time, but no further payment if the defendant commits a crime. If the jurors convict, the jurors could get some large payment in 5 or 10 years unless the defendant has been exonerated or the conviction reversed on appeal.
The size of the payments would need to be carefully calibrated so that the average award is the same for juries that convict as it is for those that acquit.
Since it would take forever for the government to work out all the details needed to translate these ideas into a fair and predictable system, I’m wondering whether a private charity could implement them. Presumably there are significant legal obstacles to many kinds of payments to jurors, since it’s easy for such payments to be intended to serve the interests of one party to the trial. I can’t tell whether the relevant laws are broad enough to prohibit desirable incentives, or if so whether it’s feasible to relax those restrictions.