I can remember the day I first was introduced to Consumer Choice Theory, born out of the Theory of the Rational Man, clear as an AZ summer day. I remember what I was wearing, the breakfast I ate that day, and the color of the shirt of the professor was wearing. Remembering such details may seem routine for the most of you, but I can not remember where I left my keys at this very moment or what I had for breakfast this morning. My wife will be glad to share many of embarrassing stories where my memory has failed me, just ask …really I don’t mind…you’ll laugh I promise. So the reason I remember this day so clearly is the impact that lesson would have on my life. I don’t know if I had ever really contemplated the reasons people choose action/good A over action/good B up until that point. I mean I had some general thought and understanding of what influenced people to make choices, you know nature vs. nurture. However, I had never really pressed the pause button on time and analyzed that second right as a choice was made. What was it that made that person choose this over that? Wow, a mind blowing question, especially for some one like me who 99.99999% of the time prefers quantitative answers over qualitative ones. I never had much use for questions like what is love or what is happiness. I prefer questions like this one; on a scale of 1 to 10 rank your love for X. This question has power, answers can be collected and analyzed, and it has worth! Why people make choices, seemed to fall in that qualitative category.
It all changed on that great August day when the question was no longer left to the debate of people who had long forgotten the power of numbers, but was now being proved right in front of my eyes with math (I just got a slight chill). The theory which has quite a few variations goes something like this; each seeks to maximize his/her own utility (happiness or something like it) according to his/her preferences subject to his/her constraints. I know I got you hooked now!!!! In lay terms the theory basically says each of us has a preference that can be ordered between two goods/actions/choices. We will choose the good which will makes us the most pleased based on those preferences and constrained by things such as budget or time. This theory is invigorating, well at least for a very small number of the population this excites us. You see this can be measured! We can draw a person’s indifference curves (they represent preference) between two goods/actions and find the point in which they touch their constraint line (this represents limitations) and poof right there is the optimal choice for that person. With this theory economists can analyze a person’s choices between just about anything. You name a quantitative choice and we can find you the answer of what choice will be optimal if we have access to the correct data. I can hear it now, your wheels are turning and ah ha you found the situation that will beat the theory. “What about the person who chooses to live among the poor rather than their beautiful North Scottsdale home?” you may ask. Well, I would say that his/her preferences are such that choosing to live with the poor produces more utility (happiness) for that individual than living in their fashionable Scottsdale mansion subject to his/her constraints. Like all other theories there are assumptions and guidelines that must be followed and if you would like to discuss further I would be glad to, but for the purpose of this blog you can see how the theory works. Effectively the theory provides you a model for choice and poof a once fuzzy wuzzy question has been cleared up through the POWER OF MATHEMATICAL PROOF!!!!
So this was a fine day, I spent many hours over the next 2 years of college using this theory as the basis to research projects, personal choices, and more debates than I care to remember. The funny thing is that at the same time I was basking in the glory of my new enlightenment, I was wrestling with some of the most difficult questions of my life. My faith was being tested in a million different directions and I was struggling to find my “fit” in a religious culture that did not seem to have a place for a guy like me. Not to mention the enormous pressures I was feeling from my past to return to the religious culture I has recently left. If that wasn’t enough I had also decided to get married, buy a house, and unknown to me was about to face the reality of returning to the military involuntarily. Life was stressful and following Jesus started to look more and more like qualitative garbage better left to “intellects” to discuss. Until one night while I lie in my one bed room apartment crying like a baby over relationship situations with my family, I had one of those ah ha moments. “Why not apply rational choice to Jesus” I thought. Yeah that’s right let’s analyze his big choice and the basis for the reason I should follow him. So I started to think why Jesus would choose to die for my sins rather than X. X represented for me a million other choices that could have been made. After many days hammering out assumptions and applying rational theory, I was left with this. Jesus’ preferences were such that dying a gruesome death at no fault of his own for my sins produced more utility than X subject to none/but all human limitation or constraints. My assumptions were one, Jesus had a choice in being on the cross, and two, that He was God and man and was not really but at the same time fully constrained to human limitations. We could and I am willing to debate the validity of this theory in this circumstance and even if the matter was a choice all together. But for one second ignore that feeling to argue, make the above assumptions, like all good scientific models do, and read the findings of the theory to yourself. “Jesus’ preferences were such that dying a gruesome death, at no fault of his own, for my sins produced him more utility (happiness) than _________ (you fell in the blank)”. Holding those assumptions to be true, that statement felt good didn’t it. It was so much more powerful, for me, when it transitioned from assumption to truth. For me this also provided an answer for that qualitative question what is love. It’s the best I can do to answer it….love is Jesus gaining more utility (happiness) in death than not ever being able to have a relationship with me. Follower of Jesus 101….maybe? Nerdy….Sure! Any less powerful …..I think not.
P.S – For clarity sake, this wasn’t THAT moment that I became a follower of Jesus. That process began long before that. This was just the moment when it was no longer a qualitative question for me….it was something I could analyze, process, and began to understand, given my constraints this is.