February 18, 2015

Dollars and Sex

Here’s your fact for the day: there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between penis length and economic growth. Countries that have the slowest economic growth appear both on the smallest and largest end of the penis size spectrum, while the countries that have the most average, middle-of-the-road penis length have fast-growing economies.

A good statistician will tell you that this is correlation and not causation, but this Boner Curve” an interesting fact nonetheless. It is also one of the first things you learn when you open Marina Adshade’s Dollars and Sex.

Dollars and Sex is an apt title for a book that looks at the economics of love and sex, and Adshade’s collection of stories and examples that illustrate basic economic principles is a compelling way to teach the study of market behaviors. The book takes the seemingly-boring study of economics out of the classroom and into the bedroom, and then, most importantly, right back into the lecture hall. This is not strictly an academic treatise, nor is it a titillating tale of coitus; Dollars and Sex is a primer on the basic economic principles we all should know, but have always been too bored to learn.

Over the past year, at least two dozen people have told me that I should be an economist. At first, I took this as an insult—economics doesn’t have the most exciting and thrilling of reputations—but I grew to love the sentiment. As an anthropologist, the decisions we make when we interact with others fascinates me; looking at the market drivers (and other such considerations) behind those decisions has become more and more appealing over the past few years.

My newfound fascination with economics has led me to perhaps be too liberal with my talk of opportunity cost, efficiency, supply and demand, externality, and sunk cost. When I lose myself in this kind of conversation (mostly with myself, and whomever is listening before they inevitably tune out), L often gives me a look that reminds me that not everyone is as enthusiastic about the economy as I may be. She indulges me in my pipe dreams of quitting my job to pursue a PhD in economics, dreams that are quickly dashed when I realize that, a) I can’t afford to lose my income to go back to school right now, and b) my mathematics and statistics skills are dramatically under par for any kind of academic pursuit in anything but the liberal arts.

Books like Adshade’s Dollars and Sex are then a perfect read for someone like me: they give me the semblance of academic rigor with the relatability of popular culture. While people may tune out if I talk about economics, everyone is always eager to talk about love and sex. A marriage (pun fully intended) of both topics satiates my appetite to go back to school, at least for now; while talking about elasticity might not be everyone’s cup of tea, everyone’s always eager to learn about the Boner Curve.

→ Marginalia