Economics of polyamory discussed on NPR's "Planet Money"
The show took questions from callers. A man named Russell called in. "I'm a polyamorist," he explained;
I'm married, but I also have two close other loving partners who I share my life with, and in turn, she also has other partners of her own, and in fact we live with one of her boyfriends. A core tenet of polyamory is the concept of abundance, that love is abundant and you can share it with whomever you want, whereas monogamy concentrates on scarcity. So I'd just be curious to hear the economist's thoughts on the idea of abundance in love, and then what economic benefits, or detractors, that could arise from society thinking abundantly about love in this way.
Harford steps right up:
So Russell, economics is often described as the study of scarce resources, so in a way you'd think an economist was the wrong person to analyze this situation of abundance you find yourself in.... but what I would say is love may be boundless, and abundant, but time isn't. Time is finite....
Now there actually is an economic theory that is related to this. It was developed by Gary Becker, Nobel Prize winner in economics. And he developed an idea of how many children you might want to have. And what Becker said is, there's a tradeoff here. Because each additional child that you have is going to divide your time, and your attention [and resources].... And in Becker's theory there is a tradeoff between the quantity of children and the quality of children. And I imagine you face the same tradeoff. You have to decide what the optimal number of committed partners is. You can say that love is abundant and can be shared in a transparent way, but I think your behavior is not totally consistent with that. Because you have I think, three committed partners, your wife has a few committed partners — why not five billion?....
Russell says that yes, his relationship ability is saturated at three, and he tells why.
Listen here. The segment runs from 15:00 to 18:25.