Markets in Everything: Souls

In this post, the Freakonomics blogger Stephen Dubner posts an offer from Caleb B. who is looking to buy souls for $10 to $50.

Here’s his offer:

…what is it about the idea of a soul that even people who confess to not have one are hesitant to sell it? I have been trying, for the better part of ten years, to buy a soul. I’ve offered a dollar amount, between $10 and $50, for someone to sign a sheet of paper that says that I own their soul. Despite multiple debates with confessed atheists, no one has signed the contract. I have been able to buy several people’s Sense of Humor and one guy’s Dignity, but no souls. Additionally, will any Freakonomics reader take me up on this? I’m willing to spend $50 on souls.

One fellow, Jared, says he’ll take the offer:

Caleb B., I will absolutely sell you my soul. To be fair, this won’t preclude me from selling it again to other suckers who (a) believe in souls and (b) believe they can be readily transferred on purchase. To be clear I’m offering because I don’t believe (a).

Or does he?

In my opinion, Jared’s conditions make this a non-sell since he’s reserving the right to sell his soul again to someone else.  In other words, he’s trying to take Caleb’s money.

With these conditions, it would be easy for Jared to get his soul back if he ever decided he’d like to.  He’d just need to find a willing person to sell it to…again… and then buy it back from them.

I love Caleb’s approach.  It taps into what economist, Paul Samuelson, called revealed preferences or, as non-economists say, putting your money where your mouth is.

That is, we say we will behave one way and then we behave differently when we face the actual consequences.

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