In the theater, there is a principle known as “Chekhov’s Gun.” It comes from something once said by Anton Chekhov, the great Russian author and playwright: “You mustn’t put a loaded rifle on stage if no one intends to fire it. You shouldn’t make promises.” Chekhov — who was also a doctor, and a very wise man — knew what he was talking about.
Laura STRAUSFELD: He’s the most produced playwright after Shakespeare and there are a lot of guns in his plays.
That’s Laura Strausfeld, a Chekhov expert. She’s a visiting scholar at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.
STRAUSFELD: The use of Chekhov’s Gun implies a certain number of things: for example, that there’s something inherently dangerous. Someone will get hurt.
So if you’re a writer, which I happen to be, you don’t put something in your story, something potentially explosive, unless it’s going to explode. You don’t, for instance, introduce a nice Midwestern couple just to talk about how nice they are.
Stephen J. DUBNER: I’ve never asked anyone this question before but as marriages go — on a scale of like 1 to 10, 10 being the best — how would you rate your marriage? Kristen?
Kristen SARATA: I would say, presently…
DUBNER: Wait. Before you do it, hang on. I both want you to say the number at the same time.
Jason SARATA: Oh my goodness
K. SARATA: Oh dear.
J. SARATA: You’re brutal.
DUBNER: I know. I am brutal. I’m going to say, “1, 2, 3.” And then I want you each to say the number. So think your number but don’t say it. Okay, got it? Now: 1, 2, 3.
J. SARATA: Six.
K. SARATA: Eight. Wow.
STRAUSFELD: This Chekhov’s Gun is in your life. The stuff is going to go down and you will with it.
DUBNER: What was the vibe between you two when you went to bed that night?
J. SARATA: Oh, it was not good.
K. SARATA and J. SARATA: It was horrible.
DUBNER: What was it that made the vibe horrible? What was it that knocked this marriage down to an 8 or a 6?
J. SARATA: It’s a princess cut. One carat and it is really nice. It’s a beautiful diamond.
* * *
We’re on the line with a couple from Grand Ledge, Michigan. That’s a suburb of Lansing.
J. SARATA: My name’s Jason Sarata.
K. SARATA: And I am Kristen Sarata.
Kristen and Jason are both turning 40 this year. They have two kids — a boy and a girl. Kristen is a nurse and nursing supervisor at a hospital emergency room in Lansing; she works the night shift. Jason is a paramedic with the fire department there. He’s also working toward becoming a financial advisor. Jason and Kristen have a lot in common; how they think about money is not one of those things.
K. SARATA: To give you a small example, we moved from a smaller home to a nicer, larger home about seven years ago. Within the first three or four months there, I was looking at our kitchen table light and making a grocery list. And on that grocery list [was] light bulbs. And as I’m looking at the table, there’s a five or six light bulb chandelier and three of them are out. He looks at my grocery list and says, “Why are you getting light bulbs?” I said, “We’re already burned out.” And he said, “They’re not burned out. I just unscrewed them a teeny little bit, so that…” I said, “Why did you do that?” He said, “Well, it’s the cost, the energy savings, as well as we don’t actually need this much light right here.”
As I started going through the house and paying attention — in our bathroom we have the Jack and Jill sinks. There’s three light bulbs above my sink, three above his, and one is screwed out on each side. The way he thinks is, “Yes, we can have that but do we need to have that?”
And that is the crux of their difference. Jason divides everything into “needs” versus “wants.” Kristen doesn’t. They’ve been together 13 years.
J. SARATA: We met one night out where I said I would never meet my future wife and that was at a bar.
K. SARATA: Jason had a list of very specific things that when he met his wife, she was going to be A, B, and C. For an example, one of the things that he had always said was, “The woman I meet, I’m not going to meet her in a bar. Her parents will be married still.” And my parents have been divorced since I was six. “She’s not going to swear, nor smoke.” And at the time, I broke all of those rules for him. I no longer smoke at all.
DUBNER: Do you still swear?
K. SARATA: I do.
J. SARATA: Only when she’s mad at me.
K. SARATA: What he’s leaving out is he had a little wild past and then he became what I call born-again Christian somewhere in his early to mid-20s. That’s where his big list of things came from.
One item on Jason’s list is a conservative approach to family finance. This is apparently why Jason rates their marriage as only a 6.
K. SARATA: If I submitted to all of Jason’s financial rules, then it would be a 10. That’s where it lies.
DUBNER: What does he want you to do financially that you’re not doing?
K. SARATA: Not spend one dime.
A few months ago, a neighborhood friend invited them to a Christmas party that was a fund-raiser for a local agency called Child and Family Charities.
K. SARATA: She sent me this text message. “Hey, are you guys available? Do you want to come and do this thing?” I look it up online and it lists the cost for a couple as like $220 or $250 for a couple to go. She hadn’t specified in the text message whether we were coming on her. Like, “Do you wanna come? This is what you have to pay”. So, I mentioned it to Jason and he was like, “You need to figure that part out first because that’s going to affect our decision.”
So Kristen texted the friend back.
K. SARATA: I said, “Tell me more about this. Is there a cost?” Things like that. I played like I hadn’t looked into it. She responded with, “Yes, there’s a cost but you’d be coming as our guests.”
To Jason, this looked like a pretty good deal. Free tickets to a nice, fancy party with dinner and drinks. They didn’t even need a babysitter. Kristen’s mom lives with them, and looks after the kids.
K. SARATA: I bought a dress.
DUBNER: What’d the dress cost you?
K. SARATA: I think it was a hundred and ten.
J. SARATA: I’m just now finding that out.
K. SARATA: No, you’re not.
DUBNER: Do you see yourself wearing it many more times in the future, though, Kristen?.
K. SARATA: It’s something that you could wear, it’s not a to the floor gown. It’s something I could wear to a wedding or a Christmas event. Something like that. So, yes.
DUBNER: All right. So Jason, theoretically you could amortize that dress?
J. SARATA: Yeah, maybe.
K. SARATA: He could.
J. SARATA: I doubt she’ll wear it again.
But, overall, it wasn’t a bad deal. The friends who invited Kristen and Jason even drove them to the party.
K. SARATA: We didn’t even pay for gas.
J. SARATA: See, that’s how my mind is supposed to work.
DUBNER: See, you’re rubbing off on her.
J. SARATA: Yeah, exactly, which is good.
K. SARATA: I just know how he thinks.
By the time they walked into the benefit, Kristen had just one concern.
K. SARATA: I was a little anxious thinking, “I really hope he’s not planning on going in there, then we just reap the benefit and he does not make any contribution.”
Now, to his credit, Jason says he was fully prepared to contribute. There was going to be a silent auction that he planned to bid in.
J. SARATA: That week, I could do a couple hundred dollars, if not more.
But once they started looking around, they realized the silent-auction items — restaurant gift cards, things like that — even these were going for more than a couple hundred dollars. Then, Jason noticed there was something else going on, besides the silent auction.
J. SARATA: There’s one table off by itself that had a bunch of Champagne glasses on it. And I walk over and say, “What’s this table for?” They explain that it’s a raffle. You can win a loose diamond.
A local jeweler had donated a diamond that was estimated to be worth $7,500. For $35, you got a glass of Champagne and one raffle ticket for the diamond; two tickets, and two glasses of Champagne, for fifty bucks. Jason, being Jason, wanted to know more.
J. SARATA: My first question was, “How many of these tickets are you selling?”
DUBNER: Makes sense. You were trying to calculate your odds.
J. SARATA: Well, it does.
DUBNER: Did they know how many tickets were being sold for the diamond?
J. SARATA: Yeah. I want to say right around 250 to 300 is what she said. So I’m like, “Okay, give me two.”
DUBNER: Did you really think about winning and that would be a really good investment, $50 for a $7,500 diamond? Or were you just thinking, “This is the sensible way for me to contribute?”
J. SARATA: For me, I thought that that would be a really good investment. I looked at the odds and said, “That’s pretty good odds.” It’s not that bad.
Later in the evening, there was a live auction, with bigger items up for bid — a ski weekend, a catered meal cooked in your home.
J. SARATA: They had a fast talker and some spotters to accept your order. You can wave your card up, with your number on it.
These were way, way above Kristen and Jason’s budget. So here they are, sitting on their hands at this fundraiser, which they got comped into by their friend, who’s sitting at the same table.
DUBNER: Did you feel compelled to spend some more for the charity since you were sitting there? Or was it awkward? Or not really?
J. SARATA: Towards the end of the auction, they said, “For anybody that wants to just donate, you can just donate. You can just raise your card and we’ll come to you and you just give whatever amounts you have.”
DUBNER: Oh, that’s nice of them.
J. SARATA: I thought so, too.
K. SARATA: But I don’t think it was awkward at any point. She invited us with an expectation. Some of it, too, was in all honesty trying to fill her table, as well, and…
DUBNER: Yeah, and you guys sound like good company. I would want you at my table at a dinner.
K. SARATA: Well, thank you.
J. SARATA: Thank you.
DUBNER: You’re welcome.
J. SARATA: We think we’re fun too.
K. SARATA: We’re usually entertaining. As they’re offering up, after all the live auction is done and they’re saying, “If you just want to make a donation now …” And some people were. They were making pretty large donations. Our friend Sarah, she said, “Is anyone interested in maybe just making…,” I think she had said, Jason, “maybe $50” or “just a donation.” She opened it up to the whole table. “We’re going to do that. Is anybody else interested?” That was when Jason said, “Well…”
J. SARATA: I look at her and I look over at the table that’s selling or giving the raffle tickets. All the glasses are not sold. They’re still there. I’m thinking, in my mind, “All right, that’s pretty good odds for me. If they’re not selling all the tickets.” I said, “Sarah, what if I just go buy two more Champagne glasses?”
So that’s what he did. Fifty bucks, two more glasses of Champagne, and two more raffle tickets. Now they’re holding four tickets. The event is just about over. Just one more thing: the raffle drawing. To announce the winner of the $7,500 diamond. Jason was listening, tickets in hand, as the number was read off.
K. SARATA: And I happened to be standing by him but really not paying any attention at all to this drawing because in my mind, “They’re going to read it off, we’re not winning.” I’m socializing. And I hear him yell actually, I think it was, “Say that again!” I look at him and he reads those three numbers off. I remember him like, “Winner.” I took the tickets being like, “Are you sure? Let me double check this right now.”
DUBNER: So your first thought Kristen is, “I cannot wait to wear this diamond,” which makes perfect sense.
K. SARATA: I can’t believe I got this beautiful diamond.
DUBNER: Jason, what’s your first thought? Is your first thought, also, “Man, Kristen will look so beautiful in that diamond?”
K. SARATA: Not at all.
J. SARATA: No, it wasn’t.
K. SARATA: As a matter of fact, because I know him so well, I had joked to quite a few of our friends — neighbors were there, and they were just floored as well, that we had won this. A
J. SARATA: High fives were going on and everything.
K. SARATA: Yeah, high fives. “Oh Kristen, this is going to be so beautiful.” And I said, “Oh yeah. C’mon, this is going on Craigslist tomorrow morning. You know Jason. Are you kidding? I know my husband.” Kind of joking.
Kind of joking but, mostly, not joking. They went home that night elated, still on a high from winning. But at home, it became obvious that Kristen’s high was not the same as Jason’s high. They started to bicker. They fought. Jason pleaded with Kristen to just go to sleep so they could talk about the diamond the next day.
K. SARATA: In all honesty, if we had $8,000 lying around, would I say, “Please go buy me a diamond?” Absolutely not. I didn’t ask for one when we got married. But it was like, “Okay, this was given to us now, so why do we have to turn this into cash? Why can’t I just own it?”
DUBNER: And Jason, I’m curious what was it that made you so eager to think of a plan other than keeping the diamond?
J. SARATA: I looked at it as the opportunity to have that money to do something else than to have it be a piece of jewelry. We have rings or jewelry from family members that are, I would say, worth very similar to that that we would never sell.
K. SARATA: It goes a little bit back into that “needs versus wants.”
DUBNER: Did you have a plan, or you just knew that our plan was to not own a diamond that expensive?
K. SARATA: He’d put it towards debt.
Laura Strausfeld, the Chekhov scholar we heard from earlier, says that Kristen and Jason’s dilemma reminds her of a Chekhov short story called The Lottery Ticket. A married couple believe they may have won the lottery.
STRAUSFELD: They go off in their fantasies about how they might spend the money and the husband’s imaginings are quite different from the wife’s. By the end they’re miserable.
Robert KRULWICH reading The Lottery Ticket: “And he looked at his wife, not with a smile now, no, but with hatred. She glanced at him too, also with hatred and anger. She had her own daydreams, her own plans, her own reflections; she understood perfectly well what her husband’s dreams were. And she knew who would be the first to try to grab her winnings.”
STRAUSFELD: Chekhov always has his microscope on intimate relationships. And the more superficial moral might be that you bring some windfall into an intimate relationship like a marriage and you’re worse off in the end from it.
Coming up on Freakonomics Radio: can Kristen and Jason resolve their dilemma without resorting to gunfire?
K. SARATA: As a matter of fact, yesterday I said, “You might come home and find it in a ring on my finger.”
And is a diamond really as valuable as we think?
Edward Jay EPSTEIN: One of the great illusions of our time is that diamonds are forever valuable. They are not.
And stay tuned for the very end of this episode, where we’ve got an important announcement to make about something happening very soon – on Tuesday, May 5.
* * *
A few months ago, at a charity raffle, Kristen and Jason Sarata won a diamond, estimated to be worth $7,500. She wanted to wear it. He wanted to sell it. Which meant that neither of them got what they wanted.
J. SARATA: I would say we both did at one time say, “We wish we never would have won it.”
K. SARATA: We did.
J. SARATA: It did get to that level.
DUBNER: Where is the diamond sitting and does anybody look at it on a regular basis?
K. SARATA: I have no idea where it is but Jason can fill us both in.
J. SARATA: I don’t know if I want to tell you now.
DUBNER: Why don’t you tell me but we’ll ask …
K. SARATA: I’ll close my ears.
DUBNER: Yeah, that’ll work.
J. SARATA: It’s in the laundry room, way up high. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s not like in a closet with any other jewelry, anything staring at her or reminding her how mad she wants to be at me.
DUBNER: And Kristen, did you literally not know until just now where it was?
K. SARATA: I honestly figured it was probably somewhere in the laundry room and I don’t think he’s truly keeping it from me because I would hope that he trusts me enough to know that I’m not going to go set it in something without his permission. But he also knows me well enough that if I’m seeing it when I’m in there doing laundry, then it’s just going to refuel my animosity. So he put it out of sight so that it will hopefully be out of mind. One thing I did say to him was, “If we’re going to do something with it, let’s do something with it.” I don’t want a year from now where it’s still sitting in the laundry room and we haven’t done anything. That is going to irritate me.
DUBNER: I love that there are two options here: one is for you to wear it, get this joy and utility out of it and the other is to sell it. Instead you’ve taken the third, which is stick it in the laundry room, which seems to be like…
K. SARATA: Right, it’s just sitting there. It’s going to gather dust. We now have something to do with this diamond and we don’t know what to do with it that will make us both feel okay with it because now we both have such negative feelings about it that whoever wins is not really winning. We’re both losing, if that makes sense.
DUBNER: Did you figure out what you could get for it, roughly?
J. SARATA: We did. If we sold it ourselves we could get probably $4,000 to $5,000.
If they sold the diamond, Jason says, they’d use some of the money to pay down debt. They’d put some in savings. And they might take a vacation. They really want a vacation.
K. SARATA: We both work quite a bit and our schedules really don’t align with each other. There’s been times where, on a Sunday he’s getting ready to go to work and he’ll say, “I’ll see you Wednesday.” I might see him for a couple hours on Tuesday afternoon, but I work midnights. He’s 24-hour shifts at one job and then he’s doing a financial adviser type thing on the side. Just getting away and having that time with just him and the kids, where we don’t have the regular routine of our daily lives, I enjoy doing that because we are so busy.
I wondered if the Saratas really could get $4,000 or $5,000 for their diamond. The jeweler who donated it estimated it to be worth $7,500. But what’s the resale market like for a loose diamond? And, taking a step further back, why are diamonds so expensive in the first place? Presumably it’s not only because people find them beautiful; it’s also, presumably, because they’re rare. They are rare, aren’t they?
EPSTEIN: People believe that diamonds are rare. In fact, diamonds, at least in America, in terms of households who possess them are the second-most-common item. The most common item is television sets. Children come in a distant third.
Okay, that may be a bit hyperbolic. But this man knows his diamonds.
EPSTEIN: I’m an investigative reporter and diamonds is one of my favorite subjects.
His name is Edward Jay Epstein. He’s been writing about the diamond industry for decades, including a book called, The Rise and Fall of Diamonds. He once performed an experiment that might prove relevant here.
EPSTEIN: While I was writing my book, I tried to sell a diamond.
First, he had to buy one. He went to New York’s diamond district, on West 47th Street, and paid $2,000 for a diamond.
EPSTEIN: I waited a week and then I went around to other diamond dealers on 47th Street. They were offering me $300 and $400. I realized I was going to lose a great deal of money, which I did.
So the markup alone on diamonds, Epstein quickly learned, was very substantial.
EPSTEIN: They weren’t going to pay that when someone tried to sell it. The diamond, of course, didn’t gain in value. You instantly lost 50 or 60 percent.
Epstein also wanted to learn how diamonds came to be so expensive, and omnipresent.
EPSTEIN: The tradition of giving a diamond as an engagement gift really began in the 20th century. Before that people didn’t need a diamond to get engaged.
So how did this tradition get started? Okay, let’s go back further in history. When you would see kings and queens from long ago wearing diamonds, the fact is that the stones were precious in part because they were hard to find. Prospectors had to pan for them in riverbeds.
EPSTEIN: Then, in South Africa, in the city of Kimberley, they found geological formations called pipes, blue material, giant diameters. They looked like something from outer space. They found if they took a steam shovel they could take this material out, which they called Kimberlite and extract diamonds from it. Suddenly they could create as large a supply of diamonds as they wanted. Steam shovels were cheap and diamond prices then fell to about $5 a carat because there were so many of them. This was all in the 1880s. Then a man came along called Cecil Rhodes.
Cecil John Rhodes, as in “Rhodes Scholarship” Rhodes; as in the founder of Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe. Rhodes was also a pretty clever diamond magnate.
EPSTEIN: Who said, “We’re going to create a worthless semi-precious stone unless we do something. We have to restrict production to the measurable demand.” He got all the owners of the diamond mines together and they created a cartel. The purpose of the cartel was to restrict supply.
In those days, Epstein says, that was easy. Most of the world’s diamond mines were in a relatively small area of South Africa.
EPSTEIN: He said, “All we have to do is figure out how many people are getting engaged a year. If it’s 500,000, we’ll only allow 500,000 stones on the market. They always seemed to be, or appear to be rare. The rest we’ll just keep in a stockpile.” This worked.
The diamond syndicate Epstein is describing came to be known as the De Beers Mining Company. It grew to be synonymous with the diamond industry itself. But during the Great Depression, demand fell.
EPSTEIN: People just couldn’t afford to buy diamonds. De Beers’s stockpile in London in a giant vault kept growing. At one point Ernest Oppenheimer…
He’s the man who had taken control of De Beers.
EPSTEIN: He actually entertained the plan of dumping the diamonds in the mid-Atlantic. In other words, they were better lost than ever reaching the market.
So, hmm, not exactly the intrinsically valuable item we think of diamonds as today. But as history would have it, World War II was good for the diamond industry. As diamonds are among the hardest known minerals on earth, they were good for a variety of industrial uses.
EPSTEIN: You needed them to cut steel and make tanks and artillery. The economies of the world perked up after the war and De Beers never had to resort to such a drastic strategy.
It was also around this time that De Beers hired the advertising firm N.W. Ayer.
EPSTEIN: Everyone has seen Mad Men on television. They were a hundred times better than Mad Men. They actually understood that what a woman wanted was a tangible measure of love. They made the diamond into the tangible symbol. They also introduced diamonds into Hollywood. They opened an office in Hollywood to put them in films. Its entire business was creating a liaison between movie producers and De Beers. Songs like Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” you know, didn’t come out of thin air.
Marilyn MONROE as Lorelei Lee in a clip from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.
EPSTEIN: They gave diamonds to movie producers. They said, “Here. For your wife. Here’s a beautiful diamond ring. What we want you to do is, in your movie show, when the woman receives the diamond, the woman, who is a virgin up to this point, suddenly jumps in to the arms of the man giving her a diamond.” That was actually all in their advertising strategy. They said, “We have to show surprise followed by gratification.” The man believed that by surprising the woman he was getting the woman. The woman believed that she was getting a tangible measure of his love. The bigger the diamond, the more the love.
N.W. Ayer also implanted the notion that diamonds are “forever,” and, therefore, not only a symbol of eternal love but an investment.
DE BEERS COMMERCIAL: The diamond engagement ring. How else could two months’ salary last forever? A diamond is forever. De Beers.
EPSTEIN: Basically the idea was that if you spent a month’s salary on diamonds, you would have an investment on your wife’s finger, which would grow and grow in value as if she was wearing a T-Bill or a stock certificate. Women accepted this because a diamond was a lot more beautiful than a Treasury Bill.
De Beers’s control over the diamond market has diminished in recent decades – largely as a result of antitrust regulations in the U.S. and Europe. But one thing that hasn’t diminished, at least not much: the overwhelming belief in the monetary value of diamonds. And this, Epstein says, has helped the industry keep a handle on a huge source of diamonds that it does not control: a vast repository known as “the overhang.”
EPSTEIN: The overhang is every diamond ever sold in history that is on someone’s finger, in a bank vault or in some drawer somewhere. The only way it can stop people from selling diamonds they don’t want anymore is by creating an idea that you’re stupid to sell it, take cash, buy stocks, buy a car or buy a house because a diamond will keep gaining in value while the others are risky investments. The moment people begin thinking of a diamond as another commodity, goes up and down in value, then a huge number of diamonds could come on the market, not from any diamond mine that was discovered, but from what people have in their bank safety deposit boxes.
K. SARATA: I had to figure out for me, what am I so angry about with this? It came down to I wanted to just hear him say, “If you really want this, then you can have it. What I want, I will put that aside – my instant thoughts of how am I going to turn this into cash or whatnot.” Because I knew it meant he would be, I don’t know if conceding is the right word, but it meant he would be giving up something he is passionate about, which is “needs versus wants.” “We don’t really need this, but if this is what you would like, we’ll go that route.”
DUBNER: Jason, you’ve never said that, I assume.
J. SARATA: No, I wish I was a mind reader though.
J. SARATA: Because that would have really helped. She’s said it before, to say it now is just empty.
K. SARATA: No, no.
J. SARATA: It doesn’t mean…
DUBNER: Are you sure? Wait wait wait. Kristen, is that true? If he were to say it now, would you really think it was an empty statement?
K. SARATA: No, I don’t.
DUBNER: Well, I don’t want to put you on the spot nor do I know either of you well enough to offer what I’m about to offer, but do you wanna take this opportunity with tape rolling to say that?
J. SARATA: Yeah, I could.
K. SARATA: He could.
J. SARATA: No, no. Honey. Honey, if you really wanted to keep it, I would be okay with it and try my hardest to never bring it up again.
K. SARATA: I believe that to be true. I really do. Sometimes Jason is so laid-back and I am so emotional that I take things that he does as, “I’m not a priority.” That’s where I felt with this ring. Like what I want to do with it is not a priority. He’s going to do what he wants to do. I had to come to terms with or realize, it’s really not just about this diamond. It’s about something a little more and in all honesty, do I really want this diamond? Do I still want it sitting in my laundry room? No, that’s a poor use of it. It’s either like, “Let’s put it in something or let’s sell it.” But I do feel like you felt very passionately about finding something else to do with this. Then I’m leaving that up to you. Let’s do it.
J. SARATA: And I have to judge whether she is being 100 percent true with me or … Let’s say somebody comes to the door, hands me a wad of cash. Does she go upstairs and get really angry with me?
K. SARATA: No.
J. SARATA: I’ve got to, in my mind, juggle some things because if there would be resentment for me if she kept it, to be completely honest. In one way, she just didn’t listen to me.
We ran the Saratas’ dilemma past Edward Jay Epstein, the diamond writer.
EPSTEIN: Keeping the diamond is just being a prisoner of the illusion.
The illusion, that is, that a diamond is in fact rare and, therefore, inherently valuable. You’ll remember that Epstein lost a lot of money trying to resell a diamond to diamond dealers. Which is why he recommends something different for Jason and Kristen.
EPSTEIN: If you want to sell a diamond, you have to have as large a market as possible. My advice to Jason and Kristen would be to sell the diamond at an auction and you might find someone else who’s a prisoner of the illusion. They might pay you a much better price.
We ran this idea past them, and they seemed to like it. A few weeks later, one of our Freakonomics Radio producers, Christopher Werth, called the Saratas to see where they had landed with their diamond.
J. SARATA: After discussing it with Kristen, we have decided to put it on eBay as an auction. What we’re going to do is donate 50 percent of the proceeds back to the charity that we won it from.
Christopher WERTH: What led you to that decision? There was so much going back and forth. What was the deciding factor?
J. SARATA: Like she said, she’s going to get more mad at me the longer it sits there and does nothing. I finally decided, “Okay, if I’ve gotten her to the point where she’s willing to sell it then let’s sell it. Let’s take this opportunity. Let’s sell it. Let’s be able to give back to that charity.” Then whatever amount comes at that point in time, we can discuss what we would do with it.
K. SARATA: Right, if it’s not on my finger it should actually be on somebody else’s.
WERTH: But there seemed to be some resentment on either side. You both described it as a case where neither person could really win in this whole thing, and that at one point you both said you wished you’d never won it. Particularly you, Kristen — how are you feeling now that you’ve decided to go ahead and sell it?
K. SARATA: Honestly, I feel very good about it. Especially because I don’t feel strong-armed into this decision at all. I feel that this was something he and I came to together, and that was really important. I just wanted to feel like I had a voice in what happened or that I wasn’t being forced to do something without considering the possibility of keeping it. I truly believe if I had said, “I really want to keep this,” he would have been okay with it.
Okay, so it is happening! Kristen and Jason’s diamond is up for auction on eBay, right now. You can find it by searching for “Freakonomics Charity Diamond.” I have to say, I dearly hope there are enough prisoners of illusion out there to drive up the price, maybe even to five figures. After all, half the money is going to Child and Family Charities, the organization that held the fundraiser where the Saratas won the diamond. And remember, this isn’t just any diamond. It’s the diamond that was won at a raffle, was fought over, was hidden in a laundry room, was fought over some more, and has finally come to a peaceful resolution here, on this program. We told Jason and Kristen we’d announce the auction to our Freakonomics Radio listeners.
J. SARATA: Let us know and tell them it comes with a free book or something too, you know, Freakonomics.
Okay, Jason, good idea. But let me sweeten the pot a little bit. As it turns out, Steve Levitt and I are putting out a new Freakonomics book very soon. On Tuesday, May 5, we’re publishing a book called When to Rob a Bank … and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants. It is a compilation of the best blog posts from 10 years’ worth of writing at Freakonomics.com. We ask questions like: Why don’t flight attendants get tipped? If you were a terrorist, how would you attack? And why does KFC always run out of fried chicken? It’s a big, fat, fun book, so please spread the word and pre-order yours now. And here’s what we’ll do for the winner of this diamond auction: I’ll get hold of one of the very first copies of When to Rob a Bank that comes off the printing press, and sign it, and mail it to you, the winner.
So if you’re in the market for a diamond, get over to eBay; and if you’re in the market for a new Freakonomics book – well, go order yours today and, after it comes out on May 5, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you think. By the way, I should tell you that the Saratas have moved the diamond out of their home to a safe, secure location… I’d like to thank them for the participation in this episode — and also a special thanks to the wonderful Robert Krulwich, who gave voice to Anton Chekhov in the episode. Robert: spasiba bolshoye.