In his latest book, Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter (Harper), cowritten with Jeff Kreisler, Dan Ariely Ph.D. ’98, James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics, turns his eye to the question of finances—providing insights into the behavioral psychology of what we happily pay for and what we refuse to. So we asked him: “What was your largest financial mistake?”
What kind of creation could be more customized and personal than a home? When I worked at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we owned a house close to the university. We loved the house and went to a great deal of inconvenience and expense to customize it. We renovated rooms, removed walls, and enlarged windows. After it was done (to the extent that renovations are ever done), we marveled at the open, airy feeling we’d created.
A few years later, when we moved to Duke and Durham, we had to sell the Cambridge house. It sat on the market for a disturbingly long time. After several months, our real-estate agent pointed out that most people didn’t want to live with an open floor plan and recommended that we reinstall a few walls to make the space more closed and sectional. We were certain that she was wrong. Who would not appreciate the beauty of our open floor plan? Who would not love the feeling of warmth that comes from being able to see your children playing in the other areas of the house? So for a while, we resisted her suggestion.
But after ten months of waiting, with the house still unsold, we decided to follow her advice. And as soon as we added walls and closed up some rooms, a buyer snatched it up.
The lesson: We have an egocentric bias, and when we build something, we fall in love with it, feel it is worth more—and we expect other people to see our amazing creation in the same way that we do. And when money is involved, this kind of over-attachment can be costly.
Homeland Security Ate My Speech: Messages from the End of the World (OR Books) is the latest set of essays from Ariel Dorfman, Walter Hines Page Research Professor Emeritus of literature. The collection focuses on the current state of affairs in America, exploring its similarity to those of repressive regimes— such as General Augusto Pinochet’s in Chile, which Dorfman, an Argentine-Chilean American, witnessed firsthand. The pieces range from hopeful to elegiac, lighthearted to fatalistic; a portion of one essay, Revisiting Melville in Chile, is reprinted below.
I also recognized in Melville’s masterpieces the very forms of resistance that many of us contemplated during those seventeen years of tyranny. Confronted with regression, shattered by grief, abandoned by the judges who were too craven and cowardly to defy the despotism of General Pinochet and his oligarchical civilian acolytes, we had to choose between the armed rebellion of the slaves on the San Dominick or the “I would prefer not to” of Bartleby. Though there were some—a small group—among the military’s challengers who embraced violence against such a nefarious regime as righteous and the only path to victory, the enormous majority of the democratic opposition were wary of this insurrectionary strategy. It was a tactic destined to fail, we thought—and we were wary of the consequences of that violence, even in the unlikely case that it could be successful rather than counterproductive. History had taught us the same lesson that Melville had presaged in Benito Cereno: Far too often have the revolutionaries of today become the oppressors of tomorrow, repeating the mistakes and coercion of yesterday. And so, with the infinite patience of an Ishmael and the insubordination of a Bartleby and the angelic resolution of a Billy Budd, we vanquished the Claggarts of Chile.
Would the American people be able to do something similar?
Recommendations from Chris Myers Asch '94
In Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital (UNC Press), the instructor and researcher at Colby College, along with coauthor George Derek Musgrove, detailed how, for four centuries, the city’s populace has had to fight both new and recurring battles with regard to race. Here, Asch talks about books and authors that have influenced his work.
• My parents got me Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters as my high-school graduation present, and I read it cover to cover that summer. I remain in awe of his storytelling ability.
• Peter Wood (professor emeritus of history) was my mentor at Duke and remains a good friend. His pioneering book Black Majority was part of a scholarly revolution in the 1960s and 1970s as historians finally began to reckon with and write about the full scope of black history.
• I love when books upend conventional wisdom and force me to change my thinking and behavior immediately. Quiet, by Susan Cain, did just that by challenging our culture’s glorification of extroverts and emphasizing the power of introverts.
• As a dad of three young kids, I spend a lot of time reading children’s literature. I love the work of Lois Lowry (The Giver and Number the Stars) and Mildred D. Taylor (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry trilogy), two master storytellers who address deep, difficult themes without being didactic or losing the humanity of their characters.
By Duke Alumni
Heather Bell Adams ’96, J.D. ’98
From Slave Ship to Supermax: Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Abuse, and the New Neo-Slave Novel
(Temple University Press)
Patrick Elliot Alexander Ph.D. ’12
M Archive: After the End of the World
(Duke University Press)
Alexis Pauline Gumbs Ph.D. ’10
For the Wild: Ritual and Commitment in Radical Eco-Activism
(University of California Press)
Sarah M. Pike ’83
Emergent Strategy and Grand Strategy: How American Presidents Succeed in Foreign Policy
(Johns Hopkins University Press)
Ionut Popescu Ph.D. ’13
Just Right: A Life in Pursuit of Liberty
(Intercollegiate Studies Institute)
Lee Edwards ’54