Clever Solution to the Texting and Driving Problem; Bitcoins and Bar Mitzvahs

A couple of items from my favorite behavioral economist, Dan Ariely.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Dan was asked the following question:

I live in a city with mediocre public transportation, so I’m thinking of buying a car to help me get around. Should I buy a car with a stick shift or an automatic transmission?

My first thought (well to be honest, my only thought) was to go with the automatic, since driving in the city with a stick shift would require a lot of work because of all the stopping and starting.

But Dan saw all that stopping and starting and shifting as a perfect way to avoid texting while driving. Since people have a greater tendency to check their phones when they are stopped, city driving may encourage lots of phone checking. However, if you are driving a stick shift, both of your hands are going to be occupied, one on the wheel and one on the shift. Problem solved.

I guess coming up with clever solutions like this is why Dan has several best selling books and a popular TED video. I’ve got a blog with 55 followers…

Another letter to Dan in today’s paper was the following:

Three years ago, my youngest son was given a bitcoin as a gift for his bar mitzvah. Since then, he has seen the bitcoin’s value climb a few thousand dollars in a week and then go down again. He is considering selling, but he is afraid the digital currency will keep going up—or that it will soon go down and he will lose a bunch of money. What should he do? How can I teach him about being a wise investor?

I wasn’t all that interested in Dan’s response to this one, since I couldn’t get past the first sentence:

Three years ago, my youngest son was given a bitcoin as a gift for his bar mitzvah.

My first thought when I read that opening sentence was that someone had given this young man a bar mitvah gift that was worth several thousand dollars.

But then I went back and checked the value of a bitcoin from three years ago, and it was around $200-400. Now that is still a very generous gift, and perhaps has taught the young man a lesson in valuation.

I also thought about what might have happened if all the boy’s friends (assume 50) at the bar mitzvah had given him a bitcoin. Just last month, those bitcoins would have been worth close to $1,000,000.

Not too shabby for a 16-year old. If he got out at bitcoin’s peak, he’d be able to buy all his 50 of his bar mitvzah friends a car.

Just make sure it was a stick shift. Maybe he could even splurge on a Hurst.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

6 thoughts on “Clever Solution to the Texting and Driving Problem; Bitcoins and Bar Mitzvahs”

  1. I love Dan Ariely’s work too! I’m feeling mighty special to be one of the 55 who have discovered your blog … one day I’ll be able to say I was an “early adopter”

    I was an early adopter of Obama for President too… 10+ years ago and look what that did for him! 🙂




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  2. P.S. and that kid should totally cash in his bitcoin now and ignore any subsequent news about how its “value” rises and falls.

    He isn’t “losing” anything from when it was at its peak since he never even had it in real money. It is a pure windfall.

    (Plus: Tulip bubble. Get out now and go buy a car before it crashes!)

    Now I have to go google what Dan suggested.




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    1. Dan gives the classic economist response; the price you paid for something is irrelevant, all that matters is what you think is going to happen in the future. It’s a nice problem for a 16-year old to have!




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      1. Yes, I no longer subscribe to WSJ so I couldn’t read the article, but found this on Dan Ariely’s website ( I was an early adopter of Ariely’s work too! I sure know how to pick ’em:) … his last paragraph was what I predicted he’d say–but of course human beings have a great deal of trouble doing. But if he cashes out and buys something useful like a new car it will be much easier to look at that car with love and resist regretting the sale, even if the “value” does increase (what goes up also goes down)…

        I hope the kid sells and enjoys his gift NOW. Numbers of $ value on paper are quite different than the experience of driving a car, or going on an interesting trip, or paying your college tuition without having to resort to student loans. Or “bird in the hand…”

        Here’s what he said a year ago on his website re: bitcoin

        Dear Dan,

        Some time ago, I bought some bitcoins. In just a few months, their value increased by 1,000%. They’ve just kept rising and are now about 4,000% higher than when I originally purchased them. My original investment is now worth more than $100,000—a substantial amount of money for me. Should I sell or hold onto them and hope for further increases?

        —Geoff

        It is hard for me to say whether this is a good investment or not, but here’s a more rational perspective for examining the question: Simply ask yourself if you would buy these bitcoins now, at their current price. If your answer is yes, you should hold onto your investment and maybe even buy more. But if your answer is no, it means that you don’t really think that the expected increase in value is worth the risk, and you should sell.

        The more general point here is that our investment decisions should be about what we think the future will hold (hard as that is to predict), and we need to work hard to overcome the influences of our past actions. No matter what you purchased a given investment for, and regardless of what it is worth now, you should make your decisions only about where you think this investment is headed.

        One last piece of advice: If you do decide to sell your bitcoins, don’t look up their value afterward. Yes, if the value drops, you’d be a bit happier that you sold, but if the value rose, your misery would be much higher—so resist the urge to check.




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