Thursday, February 7, 2013

Coerced by Conformity: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Edition

Apart from being a rather charming earworm, Thrift Store by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis contains lyrics that  speak directly to the conditions for euvoluntary exchange. Buried amidst a glorious paean to welfare-enhancing price discrimination and market-based recycling is a verse expressing puzzled disdain towards the peacock effect: an evolutionary arms race where contestants compete over a fixed prize. In this case, the peacock's tail is expensive clothing and the presumptive prize is the right to mate.

Pay attention around the 2:35 mark, when the artist notes: "They be like: 'Oh, that Gucci, that's hella tight.' I'm like, 'Yo, that's $50 for a t-shirt' ... I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business."

Swindled by a business? Perhaps. Under the assumption that relative status is a zero-sum game, it is in the interest of a firm to associate their product with a higher probability of attracting the attention of prospective mates. To the extent that this association is credible, designer clothes-as-peacock tails is a stable equilibrium. In this interaction, the demand effects are as much to blame (perhaps more?) as the supply effects. Why is the association of clothing with mating so strong? Advertising? The fop of the 17th century seems at odds with this hypothesis.

At any rate, just because it's rational don't make it right. There's plenty of good off-equilibrium play available; there are fine countersignals to be sent, and if you can look incredible in my grandpa's clothes, well sir, that's hella euvoluntary.


Warning: salty language

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?