An Ounce of Pleasure, a Gallon of Pain

Lecturing on divorce today, I was reminded of the refrain in Clay Walker‘s song, Then What: “Then what, what you gonna do, when the new wears off and the old shines through, and it ain’t really love and it ain’t really lust, and you ain’t anybody anyone’s gonna trust. … When you can’t turn back for the bridges you burn….” The song is talking, of course, about a man about to engage in an extramarital affair.

The guy in the song is willing to throw over his marriage, even though he may know that in the future, the affair will come to nothing and he will lose his wife and family. He values the present pleasure much, much more than he worries about the future pain. It’s not just that he has a high discount rate; he values pleasure now much more than he is bothered by pain next year — even though, if he were asked today to compare an affair three years from now to the pain it would cause him the following year, he would choose not to have the affair. We economists call this strange valuation of present and future hyperbolic discounting – people overemphasize current pleasure and pain in comparing actions at different points in time.

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  1. AaronS says:

    You economists call it “hyperbolic discounting”; however, us Christians (of which I am certain that no economists are are or aspire to be) call it “temptation.”

    I have often wondered about this in my own search for holiness, how some temporary pleasure (or attitude, for that matter) can seem to cause us to forget all about our vows and aspirations.

    Someone wisely said that “Temptation causes us to forget God” (at least the temptation to which we succumb), and I am inclined to agree, for I find that I can “justify” the fulfillment of temptation for myself in the beginning, but when it is done, I feel that it was not justified at all.

    Maybe that’s why the Apostle Paul said, “What I would do, I do not; and what I would not do, those things I do.”

    In any case, I’m glad the economists (minions of Satan, for certain) have expressed this in a way that expands on this truth.

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  2. Ian says:

    There is just no way I can follow the first comment.

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  3. Steven Elrod says:

    AaronS- What the hell are you talking about?

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  4. frankenduf says:

    I’m more inclined to AaronS’s analysis (though sorry to say I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic?!)- the real word for it is hedonism- if it feels good, do- which is precisely a lack of judgement on the guy’s part, therefore there is no calculus to be analyzed- the profound reason why economics fails to explain human behavior is that humans can intentionally act against their own interests (which is why we have free will)- that being said, the lyrics to that song are cool- indeed the arts have much more explanatory value of human nature than science does

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  5. Brian says:

    Economists do a ton of fantastic to work in developing countries that are trapped in poverty. If that is not in line with Jesus’ teachings in the bible and what he claimed about himself (good news to the poor, freedom to the captive, healing of the broken, end of oppression), I don’t know what is.

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  6. Zach! says:

    AaronS, your point would be much better made without the condescension, I think.

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  7. Abram Nichols says:

    Seinfeld had a good bit along these lines: nighttime guy versus morning guy. Morning guy would always get ticked off at nighttime guy, as nighttime guy would stay out too late, drink too much, and morning guy would have to pay the consequences.

    It’s tough for people to think of their own lives in economic terms. We are often advised to “live each day as if it were your last,” and in that case, why not stay out late, why not have sex with whatever willing female comes along?

    Your money will surely accumulate interest if you leave it in the bank (and won’t otherwise), but will you suffer tomorrow for a decision made today? Or will you be glad you took the plunge? It’s a little more subjective.

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  8. Nick says:

    Christians aren’t the only ones that talk about this. Buddhists warn you to remember that all things, including feelings and pleasure, are impermanent. Best not to hold on to such worldly things.

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