A reader, in email, notes that sure, she gets to live near a Whole Foods, but she made that choice of where to live. We could have made that choice, but we didn’t. (Implicit: so we should stop complaining.) Indeed, one of us could commute a couple hours into work if she wanted to live in a city with a Whole Foods and the other would have to live in an entirely different state. Seems as if the red state folk aren’t as into WF as those blue coastal cities. (Which is weird, because isn’t WF from like Texas or someplace?)
Anyhow, that gets to the question: How mobile are people?
Most of us are living constrained optimization problems. Most of us aren’t quite qualified to be tenured professors at Stanford (we are ignoring people who would prefer Harvard or Columbia). So we have to make trade-offs.
Currently the trade-off we’re making precludes us from walking to a Whole Foods (and don’t even get us started on the lack of Trader Joe’s).
It is true, we could re-optimize. We *could* move. But… making the trade off to be closer to a Whole Foods seems kind of the opposite of the advice to make the choices that make us happiest.
Many people have even more difficult choices and are even more constrained than we are. In our optimization problems we generally have to balance:
Jobs– this is what our revealed preferences have put our strongest weight. We’ve made most of our mobility sacrifices based on our ability to be tenure track professors at research universities. We could have made the choice to have a more mobile career, but we didn’t want to.
Family– We’ve both asked our partners to make sub-optimal career and lifestyle choices in sacrifice to our jobs, and they have. For a while #2 was living apart from her partner and that sucked more than anything. With couples, often sacrifices have to be made for one or the other or both. We don’t make choices in a vacuum.
Credit constraints– If we were independently wealthy, we could quit, pack up, and buy that house in the SF hills or Palo Alto or wherever. We could walk to all sorts of fancy food places, and no longer care about our careers, finding fulfillment in high level charitable work instead. Alas, we are not independently wealthy. And many many families have it much worse than we do with our comparative privilege. Rent for places near WF is generally not cheap.
Weather– I could very easily get a job in Boston or DC but I don’t want to live on the East Coast! #2 likes the DC area, however.
Given that we’ve made choices that have these consequences… are we allowed to complain? Well… yes and no.
Under constraints, rational actors try to find work-arounds that optimize their utility. It’s easy to buy baby tomato plants at the grocery store to plant and get your tomatoes that way if the only tomatoes available at the stores are tasteless mush imported from the Netherlands. So although we’d love to live closer to WF, and many other amenities, we’ve found some work-arounds. We’re doing what we can.
Even though we complain about many red-state aspects of the culture here, it can be fulfilling to get students to see two sides of an issue that they once thought was only in black-and-white. It’s still bad that homosexuality is thought of as a sin here, but that would be bad if we were living in the SF bay area (we just wouldn’t have to know about it because people wouldn’t talk about it in polite company).
And complaining about bad weather is totes fair game no matter where you live. Even if you’re complaining about it being the short-lived rainy season in Santa Monica.
What do you think? Have you managed to get everything you want in life (career, family, quality of life)? If you haven’t, should you be allowed to complain about the trade-offs you’ve had to make? And what tradeoffs have you made?