Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Carelessness and Matching

Somehow, I made my way through my American public education and my subsequent personal mission to become well read* without having read The Great Gatsby.  With the new Gatsby movie and associated discussion with friends about it, my non-reading of Gatsby was something I needed to remedy.  Fortunately on Sunday, I found myself in an airport bookstore with a high demand for an entertaining book to read.  And, there was The Great Gatsby, just begging for me to read it.  I snatched up the book, and began reading it immediately.  

I loved the book -- so much that I finished reading it the next morning.  Anyway, here's a quote from the book that I found to be unusually economic (reflecting a discussion between Nick and Jordan), and hence, this was my favorite segment of the book.
(Nick) "You're a rotten driver," I protested.  "Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn't to drive at all"
(Jordan) "I am careful."
"No, you're not."
"Well, other people are," she said lightly.
"What's that got to do with it?"
"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted.  "It takes two to make an accident."
"Suppose you met somebody as careless as yourself."
"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people.  That's why I like you."
A couple of economic concepts stuck out from this segment of dialogue.  First, in plenty of contexts, you're much more likely to meet careless than careful people, just by the nature of carelessness leading to more encounters with people.  In context, Jordan is much more likely to encounter another version of herself than if she were a careful driver because careless people tend to have more encounters.

Second, it is interesting to think about the conditions under which opposites would attract in carelessness.  If careless people prefer matching with careful people, there's no guarantee that the careless will match with the careful in equilibrium.  After all, careful people also like meeting other careful people, too.  What really matters is whether careless people like meeting careful people more than careful people like meeting other careful people.  In this vein, plenty has been written about who matches with whom and why.  This is just an interesting context in which it comes up.

*After high school, I made it my personal mission to read classic books that are part of popular/intellectual discourse.  I read Dante's Inferno, 3 books by Orwell (re-read Animal Farm, read 1984, read Down and Out in Paris and London, and started Homage to Catalonia), The Odyssey and The Iliad, among others.

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