Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson's "Spousonomics"

Paula Szuchman is co-author, with Jenny Anderson, of Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage and Dirty Dishes. Szuchman is an editor at The Wall Street Journal, and Anderson is a reporter at the New York Times.

Szuchman applied the “Page 99 Test” to Spousonomics, their first book, and reported the following:
Turn to page 99 of Spousonomics and you won’t find a single reference to marriage. Pepto-Bismol, yes. Out-of-pocket insurance expenses, yes. Moral hazard, yes. But no marriage. No wedded bliss. No suggestions for improving your love quotient.

This says a lot about the book, mainly that it’s not your typical relationship book. Jenny and I do promise you practical solutions to some common marriage problems, but we don’t go about it in the usual way. Each chapter is tied to a different economic principle, and begins with one of the more engaging econ “lessons” you’ll ever read.

The one that starts on page 98 is called “Moral Hazard: Or, The Too-Big-To-Fail Marriage.” Moral hazard means that people will take greater risks when there are no repercussions. (Thus the out-of-pocket insurance expenses, which insurance companies use to deter people from taking advantage of their coverage and going to the doctor every time they sneeze.) Moral hazard helped drive the U.S. economy into the gutter, with giant financial firms like Citigroup and AIG taking crazy risks because they knew that if anything went wrong, Uncle Sam would bail them out.

As we say on page 99, moral hazard, in plain English, means simply: “Give an inch, take a mile. Bet the house, wait for a bailout. Go directly to jail, get out of jail free.”

All of which actually has plenty to do with your marriage, as we make clear once you get to page 102. Marriage can act a bit like insurance, which is fine if it means we feel safe and secure in our partners’ arms. But things go haywire when we take these same partners for granted, assuming they’ll be there no matter how we behave—if we stop going to the gym, get too lazy to have sex and are always too distracted to say the occasional “I love you.”

But there’s a way out of the moral-hazard trap. If you read past page 99, you’ll see how three couples overcame moral hazard in their own marriages—without paying anywhere near $25 billion.
Learn more about Spousonomics and its authors, Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, at their website, their Amazon page, and on Twitter @spousonomics.

--Marshal Zeringue