DIY vs. PFR Matchmaking

Our tax system often encourages “doing it yourself” (DIY), because when you buy products or services from others, you pay sales taxes and they pay income taxes, none of which you pay if you just do it yourself. But I see larger forces encouraging DIY.

I’ve posted on how during the early industrial revolution people reasonably feared that the new regimentation that had so increased productivity at work would be applied to our leisure lives. But we chose to forgo the huge productivity gains often realized in military, school, and orphanage dorms, and instead we each did our own food, clothes, home decorations, etc. Our bodies and rooms would in general look better and be more comfy, all at less cost, if we let professionals make such choices. But we don’t.

I’ve also noticed that my grad students seem to feel a strong need to invent their own research ideas, instead of taking suggestions from professors. Even if that hurts their success chances. And I’ve recently seen a majority of my Twitter respondents oppose my proposal to, at no cost, give people a career agent with an interest in advising and promoting their career. And of course we often see people hostile to getting advice on most things, including careers.

From all this I conclude that we have a strong and increasing DIY norm. (Why exactly I’ll leave for another post.) We are especially wary of advice and help from those who are not close associates, or if they financially profit from helping. (And I’ve posted on how little we seem inclined to rely on track records when we do pay advisors.) 

Which brings us to matchmaking, an activity that we today mostly DIY (often via mate shopping apps), even though professional matchmakers were once far more popular. I posit the increased DIY norm as the main cause of this trend. Even so, I want to outline here how we could use paying-for-results (PFR) to do better matchmaking. To add to my list of suggested ways that we could pay more for results. 

Now, first I should note that it seems to me obvious that matchmakers could help many to find mates, and that better mates can be worth a lot. There is just so much that many older people understand about people and their mating that so many young people don’t understand. This seems confirmed by matchmaking being quite common in ancient societies. So I just can’t buy this common claim that it is impossible to make matches, that only the two people involved could possibly in any way predict their match; that’s just crazy. 

The hardest task in paying for results is finding a good enough proxy for the results desired. But for people who seek long term relations, we do seem to have a simple adequate proxy: how long the relation lasts. Thus my basic proposal is to agree to meet with a matchmaker’s suggestions for some period (say a year), and then if you marry (or move in with) someone so suggested within some period (say five more years), you after that pay the matchmaker $X per month (or perhaps Y% of income) until you divorce or die (or move out). 

Yes this doesn’t get at all of how much you like your marriage, but it gets at a key part of that. And it seems unlikely that a couple would pretend to split up, or long delay their relation, just to avoid paying the matchmaker.

Now this can’t be the whole proposal, as most anyone might be willing to give you a long list of names in exchange for being paid $X per month if you happen to marry someone on the list. You’d need a good way to decide who to pick as your matchmaker. 

My first idea here is to hold an auction; see who will pay you the most for the right to be paid $X/mo. if you marry one of their suggestions. But what if you hold an auction with no intention of marrying anyone, just to gain auction revenue? To fix that, we might have the auction revenue returned, with perhaps an added penalty, in the case where you marry none of the candidates suggested. But perhaps some would then plan to have a fast marriage and divorce, just to get the auction revenue. Maybe it would be enough to require that the auction revenue is only spent on meeting with suggested candidates. Or give the auction revenue to charity. Or maybe matchmakers could use other ways to check that you are serious about finding a mate. 

Another approach to choosing the matchmaker might be to use track records of success; how often do clients get married, and how long do those marriages last. With good enough data there, one might not even need the direct $X/mo. incentives. But today few matchmakers show any track records at all, and so it could take a while for new matchmakers to collect such data. The direct incentives could help until such track records are available, and might continue to help enough afterward.

In a few polls, 40% of my Twitter respondents said their main reason for wariness of a matchmaker is fear that their advice is random, while 60% said a clear track record is what would most make them likely to use a matchmaker. Which suggests there is an opportunity here; if we collect enough data, and use strong enough incentives, maybe matchmakers could actually help people to better find long-term love, to our overall benefit. 

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