Monday, July 29, 2013

Conspicuous Consumption

Is a $40,000 case of wine euvoluntary? Neil Irwin says no, and underpinned by utilitarian calculus, it's not an unreasonable claim. If you've got a few dozen thousand dollars to throw at a half a liter of rotten grapes, you can afford to buy some bed nets or tap an aquifer in sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course, that's generally true for people of more modest means too. You might not be able to save 1.5 million people, but you can surely save one or two lives by brewing your own coffee instead of queuing up at Starbucks for fru-fru sugarmilk confections. Does the suffering of distant people enter into your BATNA calculus?

Should it? How do we know when it becomes salient?

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