# Taking the awkwardness out of a Prenup—A Game Theoretic solution

I would strongly ad­vise you to look at the short re­view on Thomas Schel­ling’s Strat­egy of Con­flict posted on Less Wrong some time back. The idea that de­liber­ately con­strain­ing one’s own choices can ac­tu­ally leave a per­son bet­ter off in a ne­go­ti­a­tion is a very in­ter­est­ing one. The most clas­sic game the­o­retic ex­am­ple of this is the game of Chicken. In the game of Chicken, two peo­ple drive to­ward each other on a wide free­way. If nei­ther of them swerve, they both stand to lose by way of sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial dam­age and pos­si­ble loss of lives. If not, the first one to swerve is the prover­bial “chicken” and stands to lose face against the other per­son who was brave enough to not swerve. If one per­son were to throw away their steer­ing wheel and blind­fold them­selves be­fore driv­ing on the free­way, that would force the other per­son to swerve given that the first per­son has com­pletely given up con­trol of the situ­a­tion.

There is a slightly more gen­er­al­iz­able ex­am­ple of a similar prin­ci­ple at work. Sup­pose you wanted to buy a used car from a car dealer and were pre­pared to pay up to \$5000 for the car and the car dealer in turn was will­ing to sell it for any price above \$4000. In such a situ­a­tion, any price be­tween \$4000 and \$5000 is an ad­mis­si­ble solu­tion. How­ever you ideally want to pay as close to \$4000 as pos­si­ble, while the car dealer would like you to pay close to \$5000. In a such a situ­a­tion, each party would pre­tend that their “last price” (the price that rep­re­sents the worst pos­si­ble out­come for them, which they would nonethe­less be will­ing to ac­cept) was differ­ent from the true last price, since if one party re­al­izes the other party’s true last price, that party can put it to effec­tive use in the ne­go­ti­a­tion. Let us now as­sume a situ­a­tion wherein you and the car dealer know perfectly well about the each other’s fi­nan­cial de­tails, the de­gree of ur­gency in hav­ing the trans­ac­tion done etc., and have a very re­li­able idea of the last price of the other per­son. Now, you can break the sym­me­try and get the best pos­si­ble deal out of the situ­a­tion by de­liber­ately hand­i­cap­ping your­self in the fol­low­ing fash­ion. You sign a con­tract with a third party in­di­vi­d­ual which states that if you hap­pen to do this trans­ac­tion and pay more than \$4000, you will have to pay the third party \$1500. Now, all you need to do is show this con­tract to your used card dealer which would make it clear to him that your last price has now shrunk to \$4000 since pay­ing any­thing above that effec­tively means pay­ing in ex­cess of \$5500 which is well past your origi­nal last price.

For coun­tries that face the men­ace of air­line hi­jack­ing, it can like­wise be an effec­tive de­ter­rent to fu­ture hi­jack­ers if re­lease of ter­ror­ists or other kinds of ne­go­ti­a­tions with hi­jack­ers were ex­plic­itly pro­hibited by the coun­try’s laws, and these laws would be im­pos­si­ble to over­turn dur­ing a hi­jack­ing in­ci­dent.

This brings to mind the fol­low­ing ques­tion. Why don’t there ex­ist com­pa­nies that ex­plic­itly sign con­tracts with in­di­vi­d­u­als or other en­tities for a fee, which would hand­i­cap the en­tities in some way that can­not be eas­ily over­turned and con­se­quently give them ne­go­ti­at­ing lev­er­age as a re­sult.

One ex­am­ple I can think of is per­tain­ing to wealthy in­di­vi­d­u­als in Cal­ifor­nia and other US States with Com­mu­nity Prop­erty laws. Given the high di­vorce rates in the US, it would be pru­dent for such in­di­vi­d­u­als to have as tight prenup­tial agree­ments as pos­si­ble prior to get­ting mar­ried, to min­i­mize fi­nan­cial loss in the event of a di­vorce and also to avoid fi­nan­cially in­cen­tiviz­ing one’s spouse to ini­ti­ate a di­vorce with a promise of a fi­nan­cial wind­fall. How­ever there are some prac­ti­cal difficul­ties which might make many such in­di­vi­d­u­als shy away from do­ing this. A cou­ple of the prac­ti­cal is­sues are:

A. It is clearly rather un­ro­man­tic to have to hag­gle with one’s fi­ancée and their lawyers re­gard­ing a prenup­tial agree­ment. The im­plied “lack of be­lief” in the po­ten­tial dura­bil­ity of the mar­riage might be a turn off for one’s part­ner and other close peo­ple in­volved.

B. The in­di­vi­d­u­als them­selves might get car­ried away by emo­tion and be­lieve that they have found “the one” and as­sign a much lower prob­a­bil­ity of di­vorce or forcible con­ces­sions that they would need to make in fu­ture when faced with the threat of di­vorce. In such a situ­a­tion, they would fail to re­al­ize that prob­a­bly 50% of Amer­i­cans who felt they found “the one” just like them, went on to even­tu­ally get di­vorced.

Now imag­ine the benefi­cial role a com­pany sign­ing such con­tracts could provide. The in­di­vi­d­ual in ques­tion could sign a con­tract with this com­pany stat­ing that if they were to get mar­ried with­out a bul­let proof pre-speci­fied prenup­tial agree­ment, the com­pany could lay claim to half their net worth im­me­di­ately af­ter the wed­ding were reg­istered. Ideally, the in­di­vi­d­ual in ques­tion could sign such a con­tract when they were sin­gle or not se­ri­ously see­ing any­one with the in­ten­tion of get­ting mar­ried. The ad­van­tage of such a con­tract is the fol­low­ing:

1. Com­mu­nity prop­erty and other mod­ern di­vorce laws es­sen­tially change the de­faults with re­gard to what hap­pens in the af­ter­math of a di­vorce, com­pared to how mar­riages worked prior to the ex­is­tence of such laws. Such a con­tract would re­set the de­fault state to one where nei­ther party would fi­nan­cially profit in the af­ter­math of a di­vorce. Most of the awk­ward­ness comes when try­ing to over­ride the de­fault state with a bunch of le­gal rid­ers at the time of a wed­ding.

2. The ad­van­tage of sign­ing up for a con­tract well in ad­vance is that the afore­said in­di­vi­d­ual is then not ex­posed to is­sues A and B above. Sign­ing a tight pre-nup­tial agree­ment in the back­ground of such a con­tract, sim­ply means that the in­di­vi­d­ual in ques­tion has no de­sire to part with half their fi­nances to this third party com­pany. It makes no im­plicit state­ment about the in­di­vi­d­ual’s prob­a­bil­ity es­ti­mate for the dura­bil­ity of the mar­riage. There always ex­ists the plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion that the in­di­vi­d­ual in ques­tion was op­posed to non-prenup mar­riages in the past, but now saw no need for that given that they sub­se­quently found “the one”. How­ever they are con­strained by a cer­tain con­tract they signed in the past that they are now pow­er­less to change.

Do you know if there are en­tities that play the role of the third party com­pany with re­gard to sign­ing con­tracts that en­able peo­ple to hand­i­cap them­selves and con­se­quently come out stronger in fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions? Do you know of peo­ple who did this speci­fi­cally with re­gard to prenup­tial agree­ments? If such com­pa­nies don’t ex­ist, is that a po­ten­tial busi­ness op­por­tu­nity? I would love to hear from you in the com­ments.

• I de­cided a few weeks ago that upon get­ting mar­ried I will sign a pre-nup which speci­fies that all of my chil­dren will re­ceive pa­ter­nity test­ing with­out ex­cep­tion. This con­strains my op­tions in a way that pre­vents goal dis­tor­tion in my­self and cer­tain types of mis­trust in the hy­po­thet­i­cal hus­band.

• Po­ten­tial dis­ad­van­tage: do­ing so sig­nals that you’re the sort of per­son who would benefit from such an agree­ment; i.e. some­one who con­sid­ers them-self vuln­er­a­ble to goal dis­tor­tion, and/​or likely to be not trusted by their part­ner.

• Alter­nately it sig­nals that one is suffi­ciently im­mune that en­sur­ing a means will ex­ist for their part­ner to mea­sure this will be benefi­cial.

• Right. The in­tended sig­nal is “I am so sure that I will not cheat (at least with the par­tic­u­lar re­sult of a child) that I don’t mind guaran­tee­ing I’ll get caught if I do”.

• The phrase be­tween paren­the­ses is a crit­i­cal is­sue, since it is ex­tremely easy—and, in fact, the de­fault—to cheat with­out pro­duc­ing ille­gi­t­i­mate offspring, thus mak­ing the prenup fairly worth­less.

It’s ac­tu­ally likely to make things worse, since swear­ing that “I will not cheat and get preg­nant” is go­ing to bring one’s at­ten­tion to the back­door—i.e. that you never promised not to cheat out­right. It looks like a clas­si­cal and ex­tremely clumsy de­cep­tion.

Un­less, that is, you’d be happy with your hus­band be­ing sus­pi­cious of you at the same time he is con­fi­dent that his child is re­ally his.

• Of course I would also promise not to cheat out­right; this just doesn’t have the con­ve­nience of be­ing so eas­ily ver­ifi­able.

• It seems like a rea­son­able way to sig­nal fidelity in ad­vance. Guys can do pa­ter­nity tests pretty eas­ily these days—if they have doubts—though… and girls re­al­ise that. So, maybe this doesn’t buy you that much—in prac­tice.

• The point is not to wait un­til there are doubts. Get­ting to the point of ac­tion­ably strong doubts is half the prob­lem.

• If there are to be doubts they will prob­a­bly be­gin be­fore birth—when test­ing is not prac­ti­cal. Test­ing af­ter the doubts be­gin seems to be a pretty likely out­come.

Also, I figure the guy is go­ing to want to be the one who ad­ministers any pa­ter­nity test­ing. A test ad­ministered by the girl leaves some op­por­tu­nity for de­cep­tion by switch­ing sam­ples.

Test­ing to re­solve un­cer­tainty over pa­ter­nity seems like a good case of hu­mans con­sciously and de­liber­ately car­ing about the welfare of their genes. Some seem to think that evolu­tion’s mo­ti­va­tion for a man to re­pro­duce his genes comes is in the form of sex­ual de­sire and plea­sure—but for many, this is just not so.

• I think the le­gal de­tails of this will need to be worked out but this is cer­tainly very in­ter­est­ing! In the­ory, such a move ought to make you a more de­sir­able wife and ought to pre­vent cer­tain types of mis­trust in the hy­po­thet­i­cal hus­band. I doubt both of these would pan out in prac­tice though, un­less you are fairly cer­tain to re­strict your pool of po­ten­tial hus­bands to the ul­tra-ra­tio­nal­ists (who prob­a­bly barely even ex­ist in prac­tice), or to guys who would a pri­ori have preferred pa­ter­nity test­ing, even be­fore you bring it up to them.

• Prob­a­bly not a good idea. It’ll weird any po­ten­tial hus­band out. See Vladimir’s com­ment above.

Sigh … Ra­tion­al­ists are still a long way away from win­ning …

• It wouldn’t weird me out, but I am not at all typ­i­cal. Though I doubt Ali­corn’s hy­po­thet­i­cal hus­band would be typ­i­cal ei­ther.

• Typ­i­cal peo­ple are bor­ing! Why would I want to marry one? Then I might have typ­i­cal chil­dren. Ew.

• I find this com­ment adorable, and wish I could up­vote it more than once.

• “Nor­mal hu­mans don’t in­ter­est me. If any­one here is an alien, a time trav­eler, slider, or an es­per, then come find me! That is all.”

• Even with a typ­i­cal hus­band, I doubt you are in any dan­ger of hav­ing typ­i­cal chil­dren. I based my pre­dic­tion on “Typ­i­cal peo­ple are bor­ing!” Full Stop.

• I would be sur­prised but all right with it. I am I think more “typ­i­cal” than most LWers.

• I don’t un­der­stand how that would make sense. What hap­pens if you re­nege on such a con­tract, and how does it change things rel­a­tive to the nor­mal situ­a­tion any­way? Even with­out any con­tract, if your hus­band wants to test the kid no mat­ter what, he can dis­pute pa­ter­nity un­til the test is done and the ev­i­dence is there. The de­tails of course vary be­tween ju­ris­dic­tions, but I think this should be the case pretty much ev­ery­where.

(Also, I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not sure if con­tracts of this sort would be en­force­able in any case. From what I’ve red, prenups are ruled un­con­scionable fairly eas­ily, and I can eas­ily imag­ine a judge find­ing this sort of thing eth­i­cally fishy. But I’m just spec­u­lat­ing here; if some­one more knowl­edge­able is around, it would be in­ter­est­ing to hear from them.)

• Even if it’s un­en­force­able, it changes the dy­namic of rais­ing the ques­tion. In the nor­mal state, ask­ing for a pa­ter­nity test could rea­son­ably cause offense—“Are you say­ing I cheated?”. Writ­ing up the con­tract makes the test the de­fault, and then not want­ing the test would be sus­pi­cious—“What, now you change your mind? You said you’d test them all.”

• Yes, but would be the ad­van­tage of for­mal­iz­ing such a deal in a prenup, rather than just com­mit­ting your­self to it ver­bally and in­for­mally? Why waste the money for the lawyer fees?

• Haha, when I googled LW for “goal dis­tor­tion” I didn’t ex­pect the first hit to be Ali­corn! :) I was think­ing that Justin should write a post, but he’s busy all the time. Prob­lem is, he’s thought about it more than any­one else, I think. Mer­rrrr.

• I like the idea.

Cu­ri­ous: how are prenup vi­o­la­tions en­forced? I as­sume with pre­defined mon­e­tary penalties set­tled at di­vorce.

• Maybe I should start a startup that re­quires you to pay a \$1000 fee if you do busi­ness with any­one who signs a pre­com­mit­ment con­tract in­tended to give them a ne­go­ti­at­ing ad­van­tage.

• Then, if two of your clients did busi­ness with each other, they would both have to pay the fee, right?

• How about a startup that re­quires you to pay a similar fee for pay­ing any con­trac­tu­ally-obli­gated fee with­out first tak­ing it to civil court for trial or set­tle­ment? Just sneak an ad­ver­tise­ment in be­tween the pages of the bar ex­ams, and you’re set.

• Any thoughts on an op­ti­mal (game-the­o­retic) strat­egy in this uni­verse?

• How would you get around the prob­lem of the weird­ness sig­nal sent by such a mea­sure? Sure, if ev­ery­one was do­ing it, there would be no such prob­lem, but if you as­sume away the prob­lem of col­lec­tive ac­tion, many other more con­ve­nient solu­tions are also available in that ideal­ized world. If you’re the only one do­ing it, I would say that the weird­ness sig­nal is likely to be more dan­ger­ous once she finds out about it than if you just said openly “I want a prenup, here’s the deal, and it’s my way or the high­way.”

• The non­weird ver­sion of this is “my par­ents or busi­ness part­ners de­mand it.”

• Do peo­ple ac­tu­ally pull that off? What’s the “busi­ness part­ners” story? Do you have to have equity in a startup or some­thing so that the story is the part­ners not want­ing to share equity with your wife if she di­vorces you?

• Do peo­ple ac­tu­ally pull that off?

Yes, more of­ten the par­ents one (backed by in­her­i­tance). Very com­mon for rich par­ents wor­ried about avari­cious spouses.

What’s the “busi­ness part­ners” story? Do you have to have equity in a startup or some­thing so that the story is the part­ners not want­ing to share equity with your wife if she di­vorces you?

This.

• This.

• I be­lieve he means “Yes, that’s the type of thing I had in mind as a ‘busi­ness part­ners’ sce­nario”.

• This.

• A com­mon ex­pres­sion in Por­tuguese is “isso” (pro­nounced eeee-so), liter­ally mean­ing “this” and used with the ex­act con­no­ta­tion you’ve used it. Usu­ally the speaker overem­pha­sizes the stress on the “i”, and the in­tended sen­ti­ment is con­veyed very strongly, even when the re­cip­i­ent is a non-na­tive speaker such as my­self.

From a purely de­no­ta­tional per­spec­tive, the equiv­a­lent in English makes sense. How­ever, when I read it to my­self in my head, it just doesn’t feel right. You can’t mod­u­late the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of “this” in any way to con­vey the same con­no­ta­tion. As is it looks and feels silly.

I’ll stick to the stan­dard English trans­la­tion, “Ex­actly!”, at least un­til peo­ple adopt the Por­tuguese, “Isso!” (which we all should, it’s just so fun to say and perfect for the situ­a­tion. Try say­ing it. eeeeeeee-so!)

• Span­ish has the same thing, but it’s spel­led “eso” which means “that” and pro­nounced ‘eso’ with the e as in “bet”.

• This of course comes at the risk of stir­ring up bad blood be­tween your wife and par­ents, but since peo­ple don’t care that much about ex­tended fam­i­lies these days, many men would prob­a­bly be­lieve it to be worth the price. In any case, it is an in­ter­est­ing Schel­lin­gian real-life story.

• many men would prob­a­bly be­lieve it to be worth the price.

Women too, pre­sum­ably?

• I was refer­ring to the spe­cific situ­a­tion from the linked story. But yes, of course, an analo­gous com­ment would ap­ply in the re­verse case. Though there would be sig­nifi­cant differ­ences in more sub­tle de­tails of the situ­a­tion, since the rele­vant cus­toms and rit­u­als don’t fea­ture iden­ti­cal ex­pected roles for the sexes. Con­sider e.g. who is ex­pected to make the mar­riage pro­posal, which ob­vi­ously in­fluences the ini­tial and con­se­quent state of the ne­go­ti­a­tion (or con­flict, as per Schel­ling). (Even in those un­con­ven­tional cases where these norms aren’t fol­lowed, the very fact of de­vi­a­tion from the norm and its ac­knowl­edg­ment have sig­nifi­cant con­se­quences.)

• For what it’s worth, I re­cently heard or read a piece (i I don’t have a cite) claiming that mar­riage pro­pos­als in the old sense are be­com­ing less com­mon.

In­stead, mar­riage is dis­cussed in ad­vance, pos­si­bly for months, in­stead of the man mak­ing a sur­prise offer.

• I don’t have the ex­act num­bers at hand, but I’m pretty sure that in the over­whelming ma­jor­ity of cases, mar­riages are still pre­ceded by rit­u­als and cus­toms with greatly differ­ent sex roles. For ex­am­ple, quick googling yields this Slate ar­ti­cle ac­cord­ing to which more than 80% of mar­riages in­volve the woman re­ceiv­ing an ex­pen­sive di­a­mond en­gage­ment ring from the man—which is just one el­e­ment that in­di­cates fun­da­men­tal asym­me­try in their strate­gic po­si­tions.

Even if more and more mar­riages de­vi­ate from the most stan­dard norm, it still means that the sides typ­i­cally aren’t faced with equiv­a­lent strate­gic situ­a­tions in the highly rit­u­al­ized ne­go­ti­a­tion pro­cess, which is rele­vant for the ques­tion of what hap­pens when non-stan­dard ap­proaches are at­tempted that risk blow­ing things up by sig­nal­ing weird­ness. But this is a com­plex topic on which much time could eas­ily be spent.

• more than 80% of mar­riages in­volve the woman re­ceiv­ing an ex­pen­sive di­a­mond en­gage­ment ring from the man—which is just one el­e­ment that in­di­cates fun­da­men­tal asym­me­try in their strate­gic po­si­tions.

No so much any­more, in most states of the US. If the pro­posal is ac­cepted, the ring be­comes a part of the cou­ple’s com­mu­nity prop­erty. If the pro­posal is re­jected, the man gets the ring back (it is legally con­sid­ered a “con­di­tional gift” in most states, which the prospec­tive fi­anceé must re­turn if she re­fuses or breaks off the en­gage­ment). Either way, the ring re­mains the prop­erty of the pro­poser, so it doesn’t re­ally cost him any­thing to pro­pose.

• You’re right that en­gage­ment rings have mostly lost their former eco­nomic func­tion as a col­lat­eral of com­mit­ment. How­ever, de­spite these le­gal changes, it’s not cor­rect to say that the ring doesn’t cost the pro­poser any­thing. If the en­gage­ment is bro­ken, he’ll get it back, but it can’t be re­sold for any­thing near the origi­nal price, and reuse for a sub­se­quent woman is out of the ques­tion (well, he could try, but it would be con­sid­ered an in­sult­ing move lead­ing to a near-cer­tain dis­aster, and if he tried it sur­rep­ti­tiously, the con­se­quences would be even more catas­trophic if dis­cov­ered). More­over, even as a part of the cou­ple’s com­mu­nity prop­erty, it’s a white elephant as­set that will never be sold ex­cept in di­rest des­per­a­tion, doesn’t yield any rent or in­ter­est, and just sucks up money for in­surance, so for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, the man has parted with a sig­nifi­cant amount of money by buy­ing it.

• How­ever, de­spite these le­gal changes, it’s not cor­rect to say that the ring doesn’t cost the pro­poser any­thing.

You’ve changed my mind: there is a real cost to the ring. I con­sid­ered the ring a thing equal in value to its price but didn’t think it through enough to re­al­ize that af­ter it’s bought it only re­tains much value (as sen­ti­men­tal value to the cou­ple) if the pro­posal suc­ceeds. Thanks for the links; I had no idea di­a­monds were so over-priced.

• In­stead, mar­riage is dis­cussed in ad­vance, pos­si­bly for months, in­stead of the man mak­ing a sur­prise offer.

Was it se­ri­ously ever any other way? That’s hard for me to imag­ine. A sur­prise offer? Without the cou­ple ever dis­cussing it be­fore? Even if the man pro­poses, as is tra­di­tional, would some­one re­ally pro­pose with­out talk­ing about it first?

• This cry of “was it ever done any other way?” strikes me as his­tor­i­cally naive… ar­ranged mar­riages hap­pened, af­ter all, and still hap­pen. Dur­ing cer­tain space-time pe­ri­ods I un­der­stand it is/​was cus­tom­ary to have much younger brides than grooms, in which case it seems more rea­son­able to sur­prise rather than dis­cuss (since the groom may not have a great de­sire for the young bride’s opinions in the mat­ter).

In any case, it seems the ques­tion should be an­swered by a his­tor­i­cal so­ciol­o­gist...

• Well, yes, of course ar­ranged mar­riages hap­pened, but ar­ranged mar­riages were typ­i­cally dis­cussed and planned among the fam­i­lies in­volved. I’m refer­ring to this idea of mar­riage pro­pos­als in the “old sense”, where the groom springs the ques­tion on the bride and it’s the bride’s de­ci­sion to ac­cept or re­ject, right then. (Maybe I’m mi­s­un­der­stand­ing some­thing.)

• If we’re to be­lieve al­most ev­ery (Amer­i­can) movie ever to in­clude a mar­riage pro­posal, then yes.

(On the other hand, movies can be rather slow to re­flect chang­ing cul­tural norms. I think the “If any­one knows any rea­son blah blah speak now or for­ever hold your peace” line is only done in movies now. Still, such cliches had to origi­nally come from some­where.)

• I think the “If any­one knows any rea­son blah blah speak now or for­ever hold your peace” line is only done in movies now.

I av­er­age go­ing to about 2 wed­dings a year, and I think most wed­dings I go to still have it. I’m pretty sure Catholic ser­vices still man­date it.

• This is false. You may be re­mem­ber­ing the ques­tions of in­tent in the Rite of Catholic Mar­riage, in which the priest asks both spouses to state their in­tent to marry. (The con­sent of spouses, freely spo­ken, has tra­di­tion­ally es­tab­lished the mar­riage in Catholic be­lief.) There is no ques­tion asked of the as­sem­bly.

Here’s an ex­cerpt of this part of the rite, in­clud­ing a link to the whole mar­riage cer­e­mony:

http://​​www.catholicwed­dinghelp.com/​​top­ics/​​text-rite-of-mar­riage-mass.htm

The cur­rent Book of Com­mon Prayer, how­ever (used by Epis­co­pali­ans and Angli­cans), does seem to pre­serve this lan­guage. I think it was origi­nally an English cus­tom in any case.

http://​​jus­tus.an­gli­can.org/​​re­sources/​​bcp/​​mar­riage.pdf

It’s prob­a­bly no sur­prise that the de­fault movie mode in the United States would be Angli­can, not Catholic.

• Thanks for the cite

• Any fam­ily with a fam­ily busi­ness, large as­sets or large debts, chil­dren of prior re­la­tion­ships, or unique or spe­cial fam­ily trea­sures should con­sider cre­at­ing one.

How can I get one of these?

• Defeat­ing a dragon usu­ally does the trick. Might be out­dated ad­vice, though.

• So why are you think­ing of mar­ry­ing some­one who has this sort of aver­sion to weird­ness?

• Trou­ble is, just about ev­ery­one does. It’s an­other reg­u­lar part of the hu­man so­cial sig­nal­ing games.

I know I’ve been cit­ing Bryan Ca­plan an awful lot lately, but he re­ally has a knack for ex­plain­ing this sort of thing with mag­nifi­cent clar­ity, so I’ll point to his clas­sic blog post “Why Be Nor­mal?”:

http://​​econ­log.econ­lib.org/​​archives/​​2005/​​03/​​why_be_nor­mal.html

• Ca­plan ex­plains why weird­ness aver­sion makes sense for em­ploy­ers, not peo­ple in gen­eral.

Just about ev­ery­one may have an aver­sion to weird­ness, but you’d also re­fuse to marry just about ev­ery­one, isn’t that right?

• In both cases, send­ing off strong weird­ness sig­nals sig­nifi­cantly re­duces one’s chances of find­ing any sort of em­ploy­ment, or wife, at all — and even if some op­tions re­main available, they are in­fe­rior to what would be available with­out the weird­ness sig­nal.

I am not sure I un­der­stand what ex­actly you be­lieve to be the es­sen­tial differ­ence be­tween the two situ­a­tions, so that the same sig­nal­ing model doesn’t ap­ply in both.

• Weird­ness sig­nals char­ac­ter­is­tics like not be­ing a hard worker or not be­hav­ing in a pre­dictable man­ner, which are more im­por­tant in an em­ployee than a spouse.

• Even if the only bad traits sig­naled by weird­ness were those dis­liked by em­ploy­ers, that would still au­to­mat­i­cally make them rele­vant for po­ten­tial spouses too. Unem­ploy­a­bil­ity, or even re­duced em­ploy­a­bil­ity, is nor­mally a highly un­de­sir­able trait in a spouse.

More­over, weird­ness has many other bad con­se­quences too. In all sorts of re­la­tions be­tween peo­ple, in­clud­ing in­for­mal and non-com­mer­cial ones, weird be­hav­ior pro­vokes ru­mors and os­tracism, in­creases the prob­a­bil­ity of con­flicts, makes find­ing friends and al­lies difficult, and typ­i­cally binds one to very low sta­tus. It also sig­nals higher prob­a­bil­ity of in­creas­ingly weird be­hav­ior in the fu­ture, which might re­sult in all sorts of nasty situ­a­tions, in­clud­ing le­gal prob­lems and vi­o­lent in­ci­dents. Since peo­ple typ­i­cally ex­pect to spend the larger part of their life with their cho­sen spouse, they are ra­tio­nal to err on the side of cau­tion and break the deal as soon as any statis­ti­cally sound heuris­tic raises alarm.

Of course, there are ex­cep­tions. On oc­ca­sions, some­one’s pe­cu­liar in­di­vi­d­ual weird­ness be­comes fash­ion­able for art and en­ter­tain­ment pur­poses, mak­ing it a ticket to high sta­tus and per­haps even wealth. Alter­na­tively, a po­ten­tial spouse might share one’s pe­cu­liar taste for weird­ness and con­sider it a plus. But I don’t see how these ex­cep­tions, or any oth­ers I can think of, are rele­vant for the par­tic­u­lar case we’re dis­cussing, namely weird­ness sig­naled by shift­ing the cus­tom­ary rules and rit­u­als of mar­riage ne­go­ti­a­tion by means of an odd-look­ing le­gal in­no­va­tion.

• Weird­ness isn’t a sin­gle thing, nor is it re­li­ably that crip­pling.

There are a lot of mar­ried peo­ple in sci­ence fic­tion fan­dom. And a lot of em­ployed peo­ple, though I be­lieve a great many of them con­ceal their weird­ness from their em­ploy­ers.

A few mod­er­at­ing fac­tors for weird­ness—you might have an ad­van­tage with mates whose weird­ness matches yours. This is most ob­vi­ous for sex­ual minori­ties.

Sub-cul­tures are a way for peo­ple to be weird to­gether—they rep­re­sent a lo­cal, var­i­ant sort of nor­mal. This prob­a­bly won’t have the same ad­van­tages as main­stream nor­mal, but it’s less costly than be­ing weird all by your­self.

Some weird­ness is ac­tu­ally ad­van­ta­geous, or at least Re­form Jews and Uni­tar­i­ans have higher in­comes than the av­er­age.

If there are re­ally ad­van­tages to a par­tic­u­lar non-stan­dard mar­riage con­tract, then talk­ing about want­ing that con­tract is as much a test for find­ing a com­pat­i­ble mate as it is a de­bil­ity.

To my mind, the big risk of non-stan­dard con­tract is that there’s likely to be much less in­for­ma­tion about its effects than there is for a stan­dard con­tract.

• Nan­cyLe­bovitz:

Sub-cul­tures are a way for peo­ple to be weird to­gether—they rep­re­sent a lo­cal, var­i­ant sort of nor­mal. This prob­a­bly won’t have the same ad­van­tages as main­stream nor­mal, but it’s less costly than be­ing weird all by your­self.

That is true, but you un­der­state the case here. If there is a sig­nifi­cant sub­cul­ture where your par­tic­u­lar weird­ness is the norm, it’s a far more ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion than hav­ing a pe­cu­liar in­di­vi­d­ual weird­ness, not just be­cause other in­di­vi­d­u­als are around with whom you can es­tab­lish so­cial re­la­tions that won’t suffer from the weird­ness sig­nal, but also be­cause its ex­is­tence and pub­lic promi­nence demon­strates to the wider so­ciety that this par­tic­u­lar sort of weird­ness is com­pat­i­ble with, and in fact typ­i­cally ac­com­panied by, be­ing a well-be­haved, func­tional, and pro­duc­tive per­son. (This of course as­sum­ing that your sub­cul­ture ac­tu­ally is like that; if the sub­cul­ture at­tracts lots of de­viants and the con­se­quent bad press, it may well make things even worse.) Un­der these con­di­tions, the rele­vant char­ac­ter­is­tic will no longer trig­ger peo­ple’s weird­ness heuris­tics, and it will move un­der the en­tirely differ­ent cat­e­gory of minor­ity taste—which can still have reper­cus­sions for one’s so­cial re­la­tions and sta­tus, but far milder ones. I would say that the sci-fi fan sub­cul­ture falls squarely into this cat­e­gory.

Your ex­am­ple of sex­ual minori­ties pro­vides an­other illus­tra­tion. Ob­serve how those sex­ual minori­ties that have strug­gled suc­cess­fully for im­proved sta­tus in re­cent decades have ba­si­cally fol­lowed this pub­lic re­la­tions tac­tic: pre­sent­ing them­selves as groups of folks who are on av­er­age no less func­tional, pro­duc­tive, and well-be­haved than the rest of so­ciety, and in­sist­ing that there­fore their pe­cu­liar char­ac­ter­is­tics should not trig­ger peo­ple’s weird­ness alarms. This is also why men­tion­ing par­tic­u­lar be­hav­iors that are viewed nega­tively in the wider so­ciety, and ar­guably more preva­lent in some such groups, is of­ten taken as prima fa­cie ev­i­dence of un­der­handed hos­tility against them—it threat­ens to re­in­force the weird­ness heuris­tics that are still turned against them in the minds of sig­nifi­cant num­bers of peo­ple.

Some weird­ness is ac­tu­ally ad­van­ta­geous, or at least Re­form Jews and Uni­tar­i­ans have higher in­comes than the av­er­age.

I don’t think any re­li­gious af­fili­a­tion sends off sig­nifi­cant weird­ness sig­nals in the mod­ern North Amer­i­can cul­ture, ex­cept out-and-out loony cults and a small num­ber of de­nom­i­na­tions that, for var­i­ous rea­sons, have a bad pub­lic image and thus give off a cultish vibe. Cer­tainly, Re­form Jews and Uni­tar­i­ans seem to me well within the stan­dard per­cep­tions of the bounds of nor­mal­ity.

Of course, there are plenty of re­li­gious folks who in­sist on mar­ry­ing some­one of the same re­li­gion, as well as athe­ist folks who couldn’t bear be­ing mar­ried to some­one re­li­gious, but such in­com­pat­i­bil­ities arise due to a sim­ple ac­knowl­edg­ment of in­com­pat­i­ble tastes, val­ues, and goals, not be­cause peo­ple’s weird­ness heuris­tics get trig­gered.

To my mind, the big risk of non-stan­dard con­tract is that there’s likely to be much less in­for­ma­tion about its effects than there is for a stan­dard con­tract.

Yes—and this is only one of the many rea­sons why weird­ness heuris­tics are on the whole statis­ti­cally sound. When peo­ple offer you deals that seem weird, very much un­like the way things nor­mally done in your cul­ture, there is a non-neg­ligible prob­a­bil­ity that you might get swin­dled in ways you’re not smart and knowl­edge­able enough to figure out.

• Agreed. I wish I could up­vote this twice.

• There are a cou­ple of le­gal de­vices that peo­ple use for just this type of “strate­gic com­mit­ment” in re­gards to divorce

1. the first is called a “spendthrift trust” or a do­mes­tic as­set pro­tec­tion trust. Prior to mar­riage you put all of your as­sets into a trust that benefits you, but that you do not “con­trol.” the le­gal con­ceit here is that, since you do not re­ally con­trol these as­sets, but rather they are held in trust for your benefit, you could not have con­tributed these to com­mu­nal prop­erty when you got mar­ried. so un­like the post, your as­sets are “con­fis­cated” even be­fore you get mar­ried.

2. the sec­ond place I’ve seen is in closely held part­ner­ships for PE and Hedge funds. If you are part­ner as part of join­ing the part­ner­ship you signed an agree­ment that ba­si­cally said, that your fu­ture spouse can never own part of the part­ner­ship and what ever part of the part­ner­ship is granted to her by a judge or set­tle­ment is im­me­di­ately retroac­tively nul­lified. hard core.

• In­ter­est­ing idea. For some rea­son it has a very “Robin Han­son feel” to it. (I had to scroll back up to check if he was the au­thor, in fact)

• Agreed! In fact I was toy­ing with the idea of emailing Robin this idea in a cou­ple of lines as a po­ten­tial idea for a fu­ture post at over­com­ing­bias. I fi­nally over­came in­er­tia and went on to com­pose this :)

• Great idea. Very clever.

Per­haps some­one has said this already, but it’s worth not­ing that if you did this in the car dealer ex­am­ple, car deal­ers could sign similar con­tracts—your deal would not go through.

Then, ne­go­ti­at­ing with car deal­ers would have a game the­o­retic hawk/​dove or snow­drift equil­ibrium. Similarly with po­ten­tial wives. They could sign con­tracts that agree they will never sign prenups—an­other hawk/​dove equil­ibrium.

• Similarly with po­ten­tial wives. They could sign con­tracts that agree they will never sign prenups—an­other hawk/​dove equil­ibrium.

I’m baf­fled by this logic. If the two peo­ple want to be to­gether, but have in­com­pat­i­ble con­tracts, then they still get to be to­gether. They just won’t marry. This is still a to­tal win for the pro-prenup-con­trac­tor, who doesn’t risk los­ing any money. But it’s a loss for the anti-prenup con­trac­tor, since they don’t get to gain any money.

In con­trast, the per­son with­out an anti-prenup con­tract gets to be mar­ried, but can’t get their hands on the pro-prenup con­trac­tor’s money.

Which of these two sounds more so­cially ac­cept­able? And which is more likely to seem de­sir­able to the type of per­son the pro-prenup con­trac­tor would pre­fer to marry in the first place?

• The in­di­vi­d­u­als them­selves might get car­ried away by emo­tion and be­lieve that they have found “the one” and as­sign a much lower prob­a­bil­ity of di­vorce or forcible con­ces­sions that they would need to make in fu­ture when faced with the threat of di­vorce. In such a situ­a­tion, they would fail to re­al­ize that 50% of Amer­i­cans who went on to even­tu­ally get di­vorced prob­a­bly felt that they found “the one” as well prior to their wed­ding.

The in­ter­est­ing figure should be the frac­tion of Amer­i­cans who di­vorced, among those who “felt they found the one”, not the frac­tion of Amer­i­cans who “felt they found the one” among those who di­vorced.

• Yeah that’s what I meant but wrote the sen­tence clum­sily. Have cor­rected it now.

• But can you keep the 50% figure while chang­ing what it de­notes? Where does the figure come from?

• The 50% amer­i­can di­vorce rate is mostly in line with pub­lished statis­tics. I don’t think it is un­re­al­is­tic to as­sume that an over­whelming ma­jor­ity of folks get­ting mar­ried, feel that they are get­ting mar­ried to “the one”, so I am just keep­ing the 50% figure. In any case get­ting this num­ber to be very ac­cu­rate is not im­por­tant to the ar­gu­ment, so I didn’t care to get the best pos­si­ble es­ti­mate of this pos­si­ble.

• Then say “a fair por­tion of”, not “50%”. Say­ing “50%” gives an illu­sion of ac­tual data.

I don’t think it is un­re­al­is­tic to as­sume that an over­whelming ma­jor­ity of folks get­ting mar­ried, feel that they are get­ting mar­ried to “the one”

I’m not so sure.

• I wrote “prob­a­bly 50%”. I guess it could be rea­son­ably in­ferred that this is an ex­trap­o­la­tion us­ing my best guess cou­pled with ac­tual num­bers.

• I think this kind of strate­gic-le­gal hack­ing is very promis­ing. Another ex­am­ple would be a com­pany that wants to com­mit it­self to a cer­tain product. Say Ap­ple wants to com­mit it­self to pro­duc­ing the iPad, so they could sign a con­tract that says, if they fail to man­u­fac­ture 100K iPads per year un­til the year 2020, they forfeit 10 billion dol­lars. That com­mit­ment would en­courage de­vel­op­ers who are con­sid­er­ing iPad de­vel­op­ment and com­pa­nies think­ing about in­te­grat­ing the iPad into their IT ar­chi­tec­ture. It would also de­ter ri­val tablet man­u­fac­tur­ers.

• This is not le­gal ad­vice, ob­vi­ously, es­pe­cially since you are not af­fili­ated with Ap­ple:

That kind of con­tract is speci­fi­cally for­bid­den by most kinds of Amer­i­can con­tract law be­cause of a lin­ger­ing free la­bor ide­ol­ogy. The con­cern is that if Ap­ple changed its mind about whether it wanted to ‘work for’ the third-party com­mit­ment com­pany, it might not have 10 billion dol­lars, and so it would face a choice be­tween work or bankruptcy; that kind of choice can be too close to in­den­tured servi­tude, and in­den­tured servi­tude is un-Amer­i­can. The logic gets pretty ridicu­lous when the party in ques­tion is a huge cor­po­ra­tion that doesn’t have to sign a con­tract like that if it doesn’t want to, but “de­ter­ring ri­val tablet man­u­fac­tur­ers” isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a good thing ei­ther—we want some com­pe­ti­tion in the con­sumer tech­nol­ogy mar­ket­place.

• It could also be some­thing like “Ap­ple will auc­tion off some of it’s prop­erty (a sub­sidi­ary, in­tel­lec­tual rights to some­thing valuable, some real es­tate …) to the high­est bid­der if it doesn’t man­u­fac­ture 100K iPads”, with the con­di­tion that it can’t sell that prop­erty be­fore 2020, but can oth­er­wise use it nor­mally. This keeps most of the ad­van­tages of the 10 billion dol­lars as in­cen­tive, with­out the side effect of risk­ing bankrupcy or ty­ing the money down.

• Could they sign up a con­tract for with one or more of the com­pa­nies sup­ply­ing the in­di­vi­d­ual iPad com­po­nents for 100K pieces a year un­til 2020, with a hefty penalty for breach of con­tract, and loudly pub­li­cise the deal? They’d lose the op­tion of switch­ing sup­pli­ers in case a bet­ter one came along, but it may be worth it given the strate­gic pay­off.

(That is as­sum­ing the com­pany in ques­tion doesn’t have a ver­ti­cal monopoly, con­trol­ling all pro­duc­tion steps from the ore mines to qual­ity test­ing, which is a very rea­son­able as­sump­tion for nearly ev­ery phys­i­cal product)

• What if the con­tract speci­fied that it would pay 10 billion dol­lars only if it could af­ford to?

• Then if it looked like they would have to pay, they could tie up all their money in ir­re­vo­ca­ble long-term in­vest­ments.

• OK, they could put \$10 billion in a trust that they would be re­quired to give up if they didn’t man­u­fac­ture enough iPads.

• I think you can see the prob­lem with the policy of ty­ing up an amount of money you can’t af­ford to lose: that you prob­a­bly need that money to run your nor­mal busi­ness, and that the in­ter­est on an equiv­a­lent loan would prob­a­bly cost more than the plan was worth to you.

• Of course this type of preprenup be­ing com­mon would cre­ate a mar­ket for the op­po­site preprenup “I will not agree to a prenup or I will pay max(my_net_worth,part­ners_net_worth)/​2”.

Ac­tu­ally it would make sense for the same com­pany to mar­ket both of them. They could even pay some­thing to get young peo­ple to agree to these con­tacts fi­nanced by the con­flicts the preprenups would cre­ate later on.

• I don’t know of a com­pany that does this speci­fi­cally to help peo­ple sign­ing con­tracts, but there’s a Shel­ling-type deal called Stickk which I be­lieve is non-profit.

• I don’t know game the­ory very well, but wouldn’t this only work as long as not ev­ery­one did it. Us­ing the car ex­am­ple, if these con­tracts were com­mon prac­tice, you could have one for 4000 and the dealer could have one for 5000, in which case you could not reach the pareto op­ti­mum.

In gen­eral, doesn’t this in­finitely regress up meta lev­els? Adopt­ing pre­comitt­ments is benefi­cial, so ev­ery­one adopts them, then pre-pre­comitt­ments are benefi­cial… (up to some con­straint from re­al­ity like be­ing too young, al­though then par­ents might be­come in­volved)

Is this (like some of Schel­ling’s stuff I’ve read) more in­stru­men­tal than pure game the­ory? I can see how this would work in the real world, but I’m not sure that it would work in the­ory. (Please feel free to cor­rect any and all of my game the­ory)

• Schel­ling’s in­tro­duc­tion men­tions that his work sits in a space be­tween pure the­o­ret­i­cal game the­ory and purely prag­matic or psy­cholog­i­cal bar­gain­ing. A pre-com­mit­ment is part of a bar­gain­ing pro­cess, so if you can pre-com­mit be­fore the one you’re bar­gain­ing with (not nec­es­sar­ily chronolog­i­cally) you win. If you both pre-com­mit si­mul­ta­neously, you both lose.

• If you both pre-com­mit si­mul­ta­neously, you both lose.

How about mak­ing a pre-com­mit­ment that only ap­plies if the other per­son hasn’t made one?

• Be­cause you need to know if they’ve made a com­mit­ment, and us­ing old in­for­ma­tion can get you burned if as stated, you pre-com­mit si­mul­ta­neously.

• OK, then a pre-com­mit­ment that only ap­plies if you have no solid in­for­ma­tion that the other per­son has one in effect. (I don’t think those ad­just­ments should have been difficult to make.) Mak­ers of pre-com­mit­ments are in­cen­tivized to broad­cast their com­mit­ments with cred­ible info to back them up, right?

• The car ex­am­ple has the two ac­tors sign­ing con­tracts with op­pos­ing goals.

I can’t see why some­one would set up be­fore­hand a con­tract that pre­vented them from sign­ing a prenup. The re­luc­tance to prenup­tial ar­range­ments only ap­pears af­ter you’ve met “the one”, and all that the anti-prenup ac­tor is con­cerned with is the mo­ti­va­tion of the pro-prenup ac­tor, and sign­ing a counter-con­tract won’t al­lay that.

• You only need a con­tract like this if there is only one party with whom you can make your deal. So the mar­riage ex­am­ple is a good one (un­less you are alpha and in­differ­ent enough to pull off: “if you won’t sign the prenup my other Fi­ancée will”). How­ever the used car ex­am­ple is silly. You don’t need a con­tract stat­ing that you will be pe­nal­ized for pay­ing more than \$4000. You can just get a com­pet­ing dealer to make an offer in which case this com­pet­ing offer be­comes your up­per bound.

I re­al­ize it may seem like I’m fight­ing the hy­po­thet­i­cal here, but the OP seems con­fused as to why these sorts of com­mit­ment de­vices are not widely used. The an­swer is that it is a big world with plenty of al­ter­na­tives and com­pe­ti­tion serves the same func­tion with­out risk­ing loss.

• You are right about com­pe­ti­tion serv­ing quite a use­ful pur­pose in the real world. How­ever the real world is not like fi­nan­cial mar­kets where you have liquidity by the milli sec­ond with re­gard to com­pet­ing offers. If com­pe­ti­tion did a great job of pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive in real time, they would be no need to do the fol­low­ing in pretty much any negotiation

1. Pre­tend that you have lots of time and are in no hurry to close this deal with the other party or any­one else.

2. Pre­tend that you looked up and found/​know of much bet­ter deals el­se­where that what the other party is offer­ing. Alter­na­tively claim that the com­pet­ing deals you are get­ting are much bet­ter than they truly are.

3. Pre­tend that your “last price” is very differ­ent from your true last price.

If com­pe­ti­tion were do­ing an amaz­ing job, there would be no rea­son to do 1-3 above.

You say above “you can just get a com­pet­ing dealer to make an offer which be­comes the up­per bound”. If you are a per­son who is putting time to pro­duc­tive use, it would not be un­rea­son­able to value your hour at well over \$50. The ques­tion is there­fore whether you can find com­pet­ing offers with­out spend­ing 10-20 hours which would pretty much erode your whole mar­gin of sav­ings.

• One gen­eral ques­tion, folks. This is my first less­wrong post. What do I need to have this post as part of the “pro­moted posts” and con­se­quently ac­cessible to more read­ers of this site. Till to­day I never even no­ticed the new tabs post, which is cur­rently the only easy way to reach my post.

Thanks.

• “Pro­moted” posts (ap­pear­ing on the front page) are cho­sen by the ed­i­tors on the ba­sis of sub­stan­tive new con­tent, clear ar­gu­ment, good writ­ing, pop­u­lar­ity, and im­por­tance.

• My un­der­stand­ing is that one of a hand­ful of ed­i­tors has to man­u­ally pro­mote your post, which they tend to do if (a) they wrote the post, (b) the post gets a high (about 20+) score, or (c) it’s about a Less Wrong meetup.

• To be fair, the ed­i­tor in ques­tion doesn’t pro­mote all of their own posts.

• Ab­solutely—I didn’t mean to im­ply that was the case.

• The state­ment that you trust some­one ab­solutely, more of­ten heard of fu­ture spouses than any other time, is one of the most ar­ro­gant things you can say. You are not only say­ing you trust the other per­son, which is quite rea­son­able, but you are also say­ing you could not pos­si­bly be mis­taken. Given the rate at which peo­ple ac­tu­ally do make mis­takes, es­pe­cially when their emo­tions are run­ning high, a pre-nup strikes me as quite rea­son­able in­surance.

• Peo­ple don’t feel “I love him/​her, there­fore I must ab­solutely trust him/​her”. They feel “I ab­solutely trust him/​her, that means I love him/​her”.

• That’s de­press­ingly plau­si­ble, but do you have ev­i­dence that it’s true?

• Then the state­ment of ab­solute trust is ac­counted for by the sig­nifi­cant rate of mis­takes peo­ple make.

Alter­na­tively, you can make that state­ment as part of a strat­egy to max­i­mize your ex­pected re­turn on a mar­riage—if the in­crease in mar­riage qual­ity from plac­ing ab­solute trust in your spouse is greater than the ex­pected cost of be­ing dis­ad­van­taged in the di­vorce ne­go­ti­aions (if your spouse turns out to be un­trust­wor­thy), then you might ra­tio­nally do it any­ways.

• Three com­ments, in de­creas­ing or­der of se­ri­ous­ness.

1) The law pre­vents you from waiv­ing some rights, and this could be viewed as waiv­ing such an “in­alien­able right”. Also, how do you define a bul­let-proof pre-nup? What if its con­straints con­flict with the other party’s pre-nup?

2) So would you call such a con­tract a “pre-pre-nup”? What if some­one did a pre-pre-pre-nup where they agree not to marry any­one’s who’s signed a pre-pre-nup?

3) Why don’t you post some­thing of ac­tual RELEVANCE to the peo­ple who come he...

Ideally, the in­di­vi­d­ual in ques­tion could sign such a con­tract when they were sin­gle or not se­ri­ously see­ing any­one with the in­ten­tion of get­ting mar­ried.

• (1) and (2) seem pretty easy.

If there is a con­tra­dic­tion in pre-pre nups, ei­ther one party re­neges on the con­tract and pays the stiff price or the mar­riage doesn’t take place. When you opt for such a pre-pre-nup you are pre­sum­ably will­ing to elimi­nate the pool of po­ten­tial part­ners who are fun­da­men­tally op­posed to the terms of your pre-pre-nup. Think of this as ideally no differ­ent from a situ­a­tion when com­mu­nity prop­erty and other similar laws were abol­ished. In such a situ­a­tion, you are free to turn down suit­ors who want pre-nups that en­force com­mu­nity prop­erty laws, or have pre-pre-nups which bind them to the same.

``````Of course, I don’t know enough of the is­sue of “in­alien­able rights” and what kind of
``````

con­tracts are made ille­gal by law. With my limited knowl­edge it seems that it should be pos­si­ble to make con­tracts that achieve these, pos­si­bly by some cir­cuitous means. Of course I am no lawyer and don’t know the fine points.

• I work for a com­pany that re­sells and re­cy­cles used elec­tron­ics. As we work with larger and larger sup­pli­ers, it’s be­come nec­es­sary to file for com­pli­ance with RIOS, R2, and other en­vi­ron­men­tal cer­tifi­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions. A large part of what this en­tails is pur­pose­fully sac­ri­fic­ing our abil­ity to han­dle haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als in ways that are en­tirely le­gal, to gain cred­i­bil­ity with other com­pa­nies as be­ing ‘green’. That rep­u­ta­tion is worth a lot, to the point where we’ve in­vested hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in time and fees for the cer­tifi­ca­tion, never mind the last­ing cost to our op­er­a­tions stan­dards. It’s not a perfect match for the sce­nario you’re sug­gest­ing, as the stan­dards are tar­geted, and the cer­tifi­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions them­selves do provide some ser­vices. Its in­tended effect is ar­guably closer to ad­ver­tis­ing than ma­nipu­la­tion, but it still boils down to ex­ploit­ing 3rd party ver­ified limi­ta­tions in ne­go­ti­a­tion.

• Some types of hand­i­cap are sexy—but I think this one would prob­a­bly just make you look stupid. Best to keep it quiet un­til the other party has already in­vested plenty of time and effort—and doesn’t flee on the prospect of be­ing forced through un­ro­man­tic in­con­ve­niences.

• Even strongly com­mit­ted mug­gles put a lot of stock in the cus­tom­ary ro­man­tic pieties. “If you think I’m the one, why would you want to sign a prenup?”

• This post is rather long for the front page, and should thus con­tain a break.

• Please, NO!… the break is already there, at the bot­tom of the screen. To get past it, push the page down key, or scroll us­ing what­ever method your browser al­lows.

• Ir­rele­vant for most peo­ple on less­wrong.com. You see, peo­ple here are male, het­ero­sex­ual, fat, and autis­tic—un­able to get into a ro­man­tic situ­a­tion un­less ex­tremely rich.