Thursday, May 29, 2014

Matching vs. Maximizing

A market matches buyers to sellers, mediated by price and quality. It is hard to make sense of an ordinary market if buyers and sellers do not deal in graded items, such as wheat of a certain quality, or paintings of a certain provenance and quality. Of course, you might want that grain of wheat, or that painting, but often you are willing to settle for something quite similar. Otherwise you would not be able to make transactions, since matching would be almost impossible. Presumably you could offer to buy at a much higher price, for just what you want, but usually you settle since the seller might well keep raising the price if the seller felt you would buy "no matter what." Blackmail or Kidnapping.

Matching plays a central role in many markets, and the reason it works is that once we have expressed our interest in particular grades, there are usually many sellers--as long as the grade is not so specific that it eliminates all sellers. Hence, on internet dating/marriage/sex sites, the criteria or the grades that are advertised, by the buyer and the seller, no matter how peculiar, has many buyers or sellers. To be sure of this, you need a very specialized site (ala ChristianMingle) or a very large site (ala  The formal matches will not usually work, since even the most explicit detailed grading almost always has hidden criteria only revealed when a match-mate is right in front of you. claims to provide a lengthy questionnaire making possible more accurate matches, although I do not know if it works well. When you have many job candidates who fulfil all the criteria stated in an ad, you find that there are qualities you had not thought to specify that are decisive. You really won't be satisfied by just by fulfilling the criteria.

On the other hand, if you suspect that there are not many candidates, for a job or for you to marry, you are likely to  bend your criteria to suit what is available, or do without. You might let others choose you ("I want to be with someone who wants to be with me."), although that demands patience and a sense that your criteria or grade will have to depend on the extent of the market--a sensible strategy, and you realize that what to others might seem your compromising, to you it is a way of finding criteria and grades that have at least one available member. Your university, YU, is not very strong, but for whatever reason some people want very much to study at YU. Perhaps they ought be your students.

More to the point, total satisfaction or some such, may well be a matter of matching--not so much maximizing.  We know there is a long tradition of discrimination, where matching (he is of our kind) dominates over excellence.  Because it was bias against other, the costs of such were very high indeed. (Harvard used to have a "happy bottom quarter.")

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