Social trade

Social mercantilism

Recently I noticed that my model of social capital is fundamentally mercantilist, and that's pretty dumb. I seem to be trying to maintain a favorable balance of trade, trying to earn social capital through meeting others' needs, and trying to minimize the extent to which I "spend down" this capital. I have a tendency to spend down my real capital to accumulate social credit. This may often be counterproductive because most social currencies depreciate rapidly, and if instead I asked for help in ways that built up personal real capital (e.g. skills growth, introductions, etc.), I'd be in a better future position to trade for what I need. The obvious next move here is to figure out where I should be investing in myself instead of piling up social credit.

Different currencies

I have some sense that there are multiple types of social capital / exchange, but I don't really have a good model for what many of them are, so I just try and earn social credit in whatever currency seems most efficient, and hope that other people will do the relevant currency conversions for me. This seems often unrealistic. I'm with-it enough to know that, e.g., being a good employee doesn't mean the boss will lend me money or let me sleep on their couch, but I imagine I'm missing a bunch of similar stuff for personal relationships. I'm going to try to develop a more granular model of social currencies / types of interaction beyond "total goodness", and what conversions can and can't be made.

Alliances and connections

The broader context here is that I'm basically always trying to firm up alliances, partly because I value them a lot, partly because in my gut I don’t believe that anyone would persistently want to interact with me for any other reason.

This doesn't just take the form of accumulating social credit - there's also building joint real capital in the form of mutual understanding. I think I'll end up still endorsing much of that when I'm done thinking about friendship. Learning about another person's long-term nonurgent needs/interests makes me feel much more confident in the alliance, because (a) it's a sign that they think I'm worth telling about this stuff, and expect I might do something to help, and (b) it gives me valuable clues that may help me recognize future opportunities to efficiently help the other person, noticing opportunities to provide them with a large benefit at a small cost to me.

3 thoughts on “Social trade

  1. Howie

    Another problem with the "mercantilist" model of social capital is that "calling in" social debt someone owes to you can paradoxically increase your social capital. In other words, asking for a favor from someone can be a good way to make that person feel appreciated and increase their likelihood to do favors for you in the future. In general, I think asking someone for something is often one of the best ways to build a relationship with them.

    1. hamnox

      I can't help but feel you stole that idea of asking favors increasing social capital from Ben Franklin or Dale Carnegie, Howie. I know I did.

      1. Howie

        I don't think I stole it from them directly although I did skim Carnegie's book years ~5 years ago so it's possible. I definitely don't think (and didn't mean to imply) that it's an original idea. My best guess is that I got it from two sources:

        1) Personal experience and advice given to me. I'm generally very hesitant to ask others for help because it seems like imposing on them. I've had to have others tell me that failing to ask others for help often has the opposite effect from what's intended.
        2) General conventional wisdom. Which may have come via Franklin and/or Carnegie indirectly.


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