Nov 09

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

I am the president of a local union that represents many federal workers. We are dealing with an interesting complaint stemming from the days during the government shutdown when employees were furloughed. Staffers who were furloughed are getting back pay for the days they were off, and because of this the employees who were designated as exempted from the furloughs (who originally felt special about their status and contribution) now feel gypped: Some of them expressed feeling like “a fool for working while others got to stay home.” Any advice? 

—Robert

The current approach is clearly the wrong way to design paybacks after a furlough. Since we are likely to experience more government shutdowns in the years to come, maybe we should have a strategy for handling such situations.

I would suggest creating small groups composed of both furloughed and exempt employees and letting each furloughed worker decide how much of their back pay he or she is willing to contribute to the exempt workers in that group. A lot of research shows that people care to some degree about the welfare of others and about fairness, and we do so even at a cost to our own pocket. This kind of social utility should get the furloughed employees to act fairly, and they are even likely to be extra fair if the amount that they would give is going to be posted publicly and contribute to their reputation.

It’s possible that the government at some point will step in and do something to correct the issue. But while this local approach won’t completely fix the problem, it should make the distribution of income more equitable and, just as important, increase camaraderie among employees.

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Dear Dan,

I love drinking good wine. Each time I go to a restaurant I wonder what is the ideal amount of money to spend on a bottle. What do you do?

—John 

A recent experiment suggests an answer. Ayelet and Uri Gneezy from the University of California, San Diego, teamed up with a winery owner in their state to figure out, experimentally, the best price for his Cabernet. On some days they sold the wine for $10, on others for $20 or $40. Demand fell off at $40, but the winery sold more bottles of its Cabernet when the price was $20 than $10. On top of that, the customers who paid more indicated that the wine tasted better!

Uri and John List describe that experiment in their new book “The Why Axis,” in which they use field experiments as a method to look at many of life’s questions, from wine to love to the workplace. Their main advice is that we should all do more experiments.

So, the next time that you go to a restaurant, order two glasses of the same varietal of wine, one rather basic and one fancy, and tell the waiter to write down which is which and not to tell you. Then see if you can tell the difference. Of course, trying this experiment with just two wines is bad science, because you could be correct by chance, so you need to repeat the experiment many times. My guess? Your ability to tell the price difference will be indistinguishable from random guesses.

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Dear Dan,

I recently watched your presentation at a professional conference and was wondering why an Israeli guy telling Jewish jokes is wearing an Indian shirt? 

—Janet 

In general I am not someone who should be asked for fashion tips, but this might be an exception. I like to dress comfortably, but in many professional meetings there is a code of uncomfortable dress: suits. My solution? I figured that as long as I am wearing clothes from a different culture, no one who is politically correct would complain that I’m underdressed. After all, the critics could be offending a whole subcontinent. Now that I think about it, maybe I should start giving fashion tips.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.