Opinion

The economics of Valentine’s Day

Many generations were raised on essay questions that began with a statement and ended with a haunting and very expansive ‘Debate.’ And it has only taken to present day for us to implement such in our daily lives, and now we cannot stop. Should there be a set day to profess one’s love, and is this holiday really proof of love? Valentine’s Day has given way to the obvious antithesis, anti-Valentines Day, christened Galentines or Ladentines (depending on which gender you choose to exclusively associate with) – though the latter does not necessarily exist, I can’t help imagining a day laden with professions of love amongst male friends, prefaced, followed and liberally punctuated with reassuring quips of ‘no homo’. Celebrations of relationships and marriages, of romantic love, have given way to expressing affection for family and other furry relations, co-workers, classmates and celebrating friendship. And what began as a day honouring the martyrdom of two St. Valentines has evolved into a holiday of magnanimous proportions, concentrated on love and courtship. We have put a price tag on love, and some are rebelling against the idea, but as can be seen, we are in no positions to express discontent. Those in love negotiate their own revelries, supermarkets adopt coy tactics to increase sales and profits, and 14th of February comes and goes, adopting attributes introduced by its commodification in daily life, such as the cult of the red rose, the Valentines card, a box of chocolates and the language of love. Life moves ahead and the ‘spectre’ turns over in his grave each time an article about his and hers Valentine’s gifts is published.

Economics studies the many ways in which people make and enjoy a living, and this includes household economics and the hunt for a mating partner, or the marriage market. All genders are in a seemingly constant tizzy, whether they are willing to admit it or not, to find a partner, with whose addition they form an economic unit that with a combination of factors like age, capital, power play and experience, helps negotiate daily expenses, investment opportunities and holiday spending. Now Seaton’s doctoral thesis posits and successfully concludes that a combination of increased income and cost of increased time spent with a partner can move a marriage from sharing to non co-operation, all due to the heightened costs of negotiating and monitoring that it invites. This would imply that the rich have it worse, but also that, by a wider link to the net gains of finding the perfect gift and by disregarding purchasing power, the perfect gift is found when net costs and benefits of the search are in equilibrium – including price point and time spent in the search. Any point beyond or before that will either diminish the net gains of finding the ideal box of chocolates or fail to show your partner what you feel for them. Some tout the best gifts as those that come from the heart, therefore eliminating the need for any sort of financial exchange. For when did anyone ever regret spending quality time with a loved one?

Love is intangible and yet wholly experienced, does not often lend itself to logic and yet makes sense. Much like a silent wind of gas, love catches you unaware, as do the price hikes in the weeks preceding the big day. Roses, grown in Colombia and Ecuador amongst other places, move from farmer to shipper, to auctioneer and on to the florists and retailers – and in February temporary employment of field hands and an upsurge in transportation costs results in a 30-50% rise in its price. Supermarkets too race to claim the title of most inconspicuous consumer trap, with many offering competitive deals and discounts on cards, flowers, chocolates and meals, while raising prices elsewhere in the store to make up for the loss. They depend on their buyers to rush in for a last minute gift, other cares tossed to the wind. With the aim of increasing customers, supermarkets and their marketing teams have been coaxing us into the belief that a romantic meal for two is the way to go, further markdown stickers tossed. But why do we even choose to give gifts? Given all that one knows about such tactical plays, it seems silly that we still buy into the hype. The psychology of gift giving, in a romantic capacity, is primal – it is a sign to others of a successful and stable relationship, thus warning of potential competitors. From duels, to undying professions of love in elegant prose and poetry, and courtly displays of endearment, we have decided to settle for Hallmark cards, diabetes in a box and a flower that has nothing on a healthy Aloe Vera.

Humans love one another and therefore care and expect to be cared for. Love is a sort of insurance, the bonds that will help us overcome difficult times. However, giving help to a loved one who might need it, does not carry with it any of the free market problems of moral hazard or free-rider, as would any other social and private insurance. There is no dilemma of incentives here as this care and help is expected to be reciprocated, and such mutual assurance is the reason why households are key organizational institutions for our families and their economic lives. Especially in an era when trust is hard to come by, love could be the factor that allows for the smoother functioning of society, or even the one that causes enormous Valentine’s Day spending and thus supports local businesses and controls unemployment levels. A steady increase in revenues from this day is a sign of improved consumer confidence and growing economies. Other benefits include strengthening of one’s relationship, or completely the opposite, depending on how the Gift performs. And performance anxiety is no laughing matter.