“I love you”, I told her over three years back.

“If you love me so much give me half your assets”, she replied, probably in jest.

“I’ll give you but in exchange for half your assets”.

“You know I’ve just started working so I don’t have too many assets. So I’ll happily exchange half my assets for half yours”.

A few months later we got married. And yes, this is a true and serious story. While it might  be devoid of all the romance that one associates with love and marriage, it illustrates what marriage is all about – it is a commercial contract where you pledge to share half your assets to the counterparty, and bequeath all your assets to him/her in case of your “unfortunate demise”.

One of the major points in the BJP’s manifesto over the years has been for a Uniform Civil Code. Currently, in India, people belonging to each religion have their own “civil codes” which governs their personal lives. According to the current Indian laws, a Christian girl has to wait until she is 21 years old to get married, while a Muslim girl can get married at 16. A Hindu man can have a maximum of one legally wedded wife, while a Muslim man can have four.

Now you can see why the BJP’s clamour for a Uniform Civil Code appears controversial – Muslims believe that this move will deprive them of the additional three wives that they are currently entitled to. However, I argue that by stripping marriage off all the emotional context and just sticking to its core commercial values, we can have a Uniform Civil Code without any controversy.

The basic argument is this: the Government of India (or any other government) has no business telling people who they should live with, sleep with or have children with. As long as two adults consent to stay together or share a bed , there should be no legal hassles to them doing so. If three adults consent to live with each other and agree on a conjugal arrangement, the government should have no problem with that either. So why do we need a civil code at all?

The only interest a Government has in the institution of marriage is in terms of property rights. Because of the basic principle that a person’s “next of kin” inherits its property, the government needs to know who a person’s next of kin is. For that purpose, you need a legal document – a purpose that is today served by a marriage certificate. Beyond this realm of property rights and inheritance, a secular government has no right to dictate who I’m sleeping with – as long as it’s consensual.

So I propose the following segment of the Uniform Civil Code: “any adult, at a particular point of time, can have exactly one legally wedded spouse” (notice that the gender neutral wording takes care of LGBTs also). Notice also that this code only talks about legally wedded spouses. What it doesn’t mention, or care to mention, that one can have as many “illegal” spouses as they want. With the caveat that because these people are not legally wedded to you they don’t have a claim on your property.

Currently there is too much drama in the courts about the “basic structure of the Indian family” and “family values” and more often than not they are being used to pass rather illiberal judgments. The multiple civil code structure that we have, which is based on a supposedly divine and romantic institution of marriage, is doing more harm than good to the citizens. Once the state (and all its arms) realizes that marriage is at the core a commercial contract a lot of social wrongs can be easily set right.

I didn’t need to marry the person who is now my wife only if I wanted to move in with her. As two consenting adults, no one could have prevented us. It was, however, a measure of mutual trust and love, that we decided that we should share assets also. And hence decided to get married (our marriage was registered according to the “Hindu Marriages Act”, for the record).


Arranged Scissors 5 – Finding the Right Exchange

If you look at my IIMB grade card, one subject stands out. It is one of the two Cs that I have on the card, and the other was in a “dead rubber” (5th/6th term where grades didn’t matter for placements). This C was in introductory marketing management. Where the major compoenent was a group project called the application exercise (ap-ex). I frequently crib that I did badly in that project because four out of six people in my group did no work, or even negative work (and this is true). Digging deeper, however, I think the more fundamental issue was that the two of us who worked didn’t really know what we were doing. We failed to understand the concept of STP till a few years after the project was over.

STP is one of the most fundamental concepts in marketing. It stands for Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning. I quickly appreciated Positioning, but took a long time in trying to figure out the difference between segmentation and targeting. In my defence, they are highly inter-related concepts, and unless you look at it from the point of view of social sciences (where each unique point fetches you one mark in the board exam) it is not intuitive that they are separate concepts.

So you segment the “population” based on various axes. Taking these axes in conjunction, you end up “segmenting” the population into a large number of hypercubes. Then you do the “targeting”. Find the set of hypercubes that you want to sell your product to (in the context this post is about, sell yourself to). And so once you have found your “target segment” or set of “target segments” you “position yourself” and go out to sell. And then you need to figure out the “4 Ps” of marketing. Product (fixed here – it’s you). Price (irrelevant if you don’t plan to take dowry). Forgot one P. The other is Place (where you will sell).

The arranged marriage market can be broadly be divided into two – OTC and exchanges. OTC (over the counter) is the case where you have a mutual acquaintance setting you up with a counterparty. The only difference here between arranged and normal scissors is that in the arranged case, it is your parents who are set up with the counterparty’s parents rather you getting set up directly. Since it is a mutual acquaintance doing the setting up, the counterparty is at max two degrees away, and this makes the due diligence process a lot easier. Also, you have one interested third party who will keep nudging you and pushing hte process back and forth and generally catalyzing it. So people in general prefer it. Historically, there were no formal exchanges (apart from say a few “well known village elders”). Most transactions were OTC.

One problem in financial OTC markets is counterparty risk (which is what has prompted the US government to prop up AIG) but this is not a unique problem with OTC arranged marriage market – counterparty risk will always be there irrespective of the method in which the relationship was formed. Apart from providing counterparty protection, one important role that financial exchanges play is to improve liquidity in the market. The number of transactions that happen in the exchange ensure that the market is efficient and prices are fair. Liquidity is an important asset in the arranged marriage exchanges also.

The problem that I’m trying to describe in this post is about segmenting the exchanges based on their most popular commodity types. I don’t have reall live examples of this, but then for each product you will want to go to a different exchange. For example (this example may not be factually correct) both the Chicago Board of Trade (CBoT) and Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) trade in both corn futures and cattle futures. However, the volume of corn futures that are traded on CBoT is significantly larger than the volume of corn futures traded on the CME. And the volume of cattle futures traded on the CME might be siginicantly larger than the corresponding volume in CBoT.

So if you want to buy cattle futures, you are better off going to the CME rather than the CBoT since the former has significantly greater liquidity in this product, and thus you are assured of getting a “fairer” price. Similarly, to buy corn you should rather go to CBoT than CME. I suppose you get the drift. Now, the same is true with the arranged marriage market also. If you want to get listed on an exchange, you will need to make sure that you get listed on the right exchange – the exchange where you are most likely to find people belonging to your target segment.

To take an example, if you think you want a Tamil-speaking spouse, you are significantly better off listing on rather than listing on, right? Of course this is just a simplistic example which I have presented because the segmentation and difference in markets is clear. Things in the real world are not so easy.

There are various kinds of marriage exchanges around. In fact, this has been a flourishing profession for a large number of years, and even the recent boom in louvvu marriages has done nothing to stem the flow of this market. You will have every swamiji in every mutt who will want to perform social service by opening a marriage exchange. Then, you have a few offline for-profit exchanges. Some of them work on a per-deal basis. Others charge you for listing, since it is tough for them to track the relationships that they’ve managed to create. Then, this is one business which has clearly survived the dotcom bust of 2001-02. The fact that this business is flourishing can be seen on the left sidebar of this page where I suppose a large number of them will be advertising. In fact, I encourage you to click through them since that will result in precious adsense revenue for me.

There is nothing wrong in carpet bombing, but that comes at a price. Notwithstanding the listing fees (which are usually nominal), you will have to deal with a significantly large number of “obviously misfit” CVs and bump them off. Especially if you live far away from the exchanges and have someone else broking for you, you don’t want to burden them too much, right? So the problem is in doing your segmentation and targeting. And then researching the exchanges to find which exchange has most liquidity for products belonging to both your segment as well as your target segment. And get listed on them ratehr than wasting precious time, energy and money listing on exchanges that are unlikely to be useful.

Since I began this (extremely long) post with marketing fundaes, I should complete it with some more (which is irrelevant to the rest of this post). A standard process for advertising is AIDA (Awareness-Interest-Desire-Action). Typically for a relationship to “happen”, you need a minimum of D from at least one of the parties, and a minimum of I from the other party. The normal arranged marriage process, however, assumes that an I-I is a sufficient condition for a sufficient lifelong relationship, and don’t give enough time and space for people to check if D is there. Hence the disasters. Hence the tilt towards the CMPs.

Arranged Scissors 1 – The Common Minimum Programme

Arranged Scissors 2

Arranged Scissors 3 – Due Diligence

Arranged Scissors 4 – Dear Cesare

On Large and Small Books

During my last binge at Landmark, I saw a book which I thought I’d like. It was priced at some six hundred rupees – a full fifty percent premium over what I’m usually willing to pay for a book – and was quite thick. My first thought was “ok on a pages-per-rupee basis, this seems to be doing quite well so I should buy it”. Then I had  second thoughts.

The question is – should you look at the size of a book as an advantage or as a disadvantage? I think the normal viewpoint (as reflected by my instinct) treats pages as assets. There might be historical backing for this. When books were read for timepass, the amount of value (the time that could be passed) that could be gleaned from the book would be proportional to the number of pages in the book. If the language was difficult to read, then even better – for now it allows one to pass even more time reading the book.

However, when one comes to “funda  books”, this argument fails spectacularly. When you read funda books, you don’t read to pass time. You read books in order to get fundaes. And once this happens, volume becomes not a benefit but a cost. When you are reading a book for the fundaes, then you are effectively paying two costs – one is the rupee cost of the book and the other is the time COST. The time that you spend reading the book now becomes a cost. And when time is a cost, then more pages need not be a benefit.

Unfortunately, when you are at the bookstore trying to make a decision about whether to buy a book, there is no way you can figure out how much of fundaes the book is likely to offer. It would have helped if you have read some reviews, which will allow you to make an informed decision. If you haven’t, then hard luck. Now, if you have no clue about that book that you have in your hand, and you need to make a decision on whether to buy it, then I won’t blame you for making your decision based on the thickness.

The unfortunate consequence of this is useless padding up of books. Authors and publishers know that a large section of the readers are likely to judge books based on their size. And they make things voluminous. They take 40 pages to tell stories that could’ve been written in 4. They end up saying the same thing time and again, just to increase the number of pages. And overall, end up boring the reader and lowering the net value added by their book.

So you have ideas which could have been communicated in a few blog posts developing into a book – after all, no one wouuld be willing to pay the same amount of money for a 20 page book as they would for a 200 page book right? even if it were to offer comparable amount of fundaes?

I don’t really know if there is a simple solution to this problem. Solving this would involve effecting a major shift in consumer behaviour. It is unlikely that blogging and online publication would become profitable, else we might have expected the disruption to come from there. Still, you can never say. All we can do is to wait and hope. And read reviews before choosing books.

PS: online purchase of books (via Amazon, etc.) might help mitigate this problem a little since you don’t really feel a book when you decide to buy it, and you have reviews available instantly. Nevertheless, I’m sure most buyers would be subsconsciously using the “number of pages” field while making their purchase decision.

PS2: I should make my blog posts less verbose