Dating apps and the terrible difficulty of planning an economy

To an economist everything is substituitable. The implication of this is that everything we use is a substitute for something else. Where it all gets rather tricky is that technology marches on, what can be used as a substitute for whicht is an ever changing feast. It is this which makes any form of planning of the economy so difficult.

Dating apps are partly responsible for a significant decrease in 24-hour alcohol licences, new research has suggested.

The number of pubs, bars and nightclubs granted permission to serve alcohol round-the-clock has fallen by a fifth over the past year, according to commercial law firm EMW.

The company said expected demand for nightlife had failed to materialise, leaving 742 late night alcohol licences in 2018, down from 919 in 2013.

The increasing popularity of Netflix and dating apps has contributed to a "cultural" shift in how people socialise, thereby affecting demand of drinking in late night venues, the research suggests.

We don’t know whether this link is true or not but let us take it as so for the moment. The argument is that late night drinking and dating apps are substitutes for each other. Possibly substituitable methods of meeting the partner of your dreams, possibly simply of a rather more earthy form of leisure pursuit.

But think of the difficulty this provides for the planner. Sure, one could be Taliban in outlook and insist that cross gender contact should simply never happen outside arranged marriage. The Southern Baptist view that sex is to be abhorred because dancing may break out has its adherents. But in general the idea that consenting adults should get on with being consenting is how society works.

So, as that planner, one might in a technologically static society think that the provision of more late night drinking places will aid in this project. But when one does so it’s necessary to take account of simply everything else too. The military invented GPS to know where to drop the bombs - who knew that this would lead to proximity dating apps? Steve Jobs thought a touchscreen on a phone was a pretty neat idea - who knew this would lead to so much touching?

Yes, we could indeed predict that humans will use any new technology, at least test it out for its usefulness concerning, for sex because that’s what humans do. We’re all descended from those who found sex interesting after all. But how can that rational planner looking at opening hours hope to consider and predict the results of dateless nerds playing with code in San Francisco upon pub usage in Brentwood?

It’s not possible to consider all of these things which is why that planning is simply too difficult to actually do. We’re left with the chaotic experimentation of the market to sort it all out for us.