I sometimes tell my students on the first day of a class in Economics that Economics can be used to understand many things beyond business and commerce. For example, it can shed insight into such diverse concepts as marriage and crime. Marriage may be seen as a decision that is made under uncertainty, as we don’t really know who the other person is until we marry them. As with decisions to purchase a home or stocks in the stock market, the best we can do is to use the information at our disposal to make the best decision possible. Meanwhile, crimes might be committed when the expected discomfort of punishment, when the probability of being caught is included in the calculation, is less than the expected benefit from committing the crime. I found myself thinking of this recently as I responded to an invitation to a party that our neighborhood is throwing in the next few weeks.
I have a wonderful neighborhood, and live near some fabulous people. The neighborhood has many activities and parties for the children, such as Halloween parties and Easter Egg hunts. In addition, we also have occasional parties and gatherings for the adults. Such events are made possible by neighborhood teenagers who offer to babysit for the children while the parents celebrate, and are a welcome change to the usual adult responsibilities of helping with homework and carting children to after school activities. I was excited, then, to learn of a party that will be held in our neighborhood in the near future. In fact, I insisted that my husband and I attend it, and quickly signed us up. It was only after I had committed to going to the party that I began to question its premise. You see, the party is a murder mystery party, played as the group moves through several neighborhood homes in a progressive dinner.
The premise is that a murder is committed in a small town, and that members of the town gather at a dinner party to figure out who the murderer is. I was assigned the role of the town librarian, which is a role that is made more interesting than it might sound by the fact that she (or he; the name is one that could be assigned to a man or woman) is supposed to be quite a busy-body who gets angry easily and is also frightened of germs. I see myself “playing” it by acting like kind of a combination of the characters “Jessica Fletcher” and “Monk.” In fact, I am trying to figure out which books to carry with me to help the other players know that I am the librarian.
I know that I am thinking about this far too much, but I found myself cringing when I thought a little more seriously about the idea that this party will revolve around a murder. I think that I am most disturbed by the fact that I don’t know if I will be the one committing the crime, but in the end, I found myself wondering if I should participate at all in a party that celebrates one of the most horrible deeds that human beings can be responsible for.
We have no guns in our house, and have never had toy guns for my daughter to play with. I ask myself, since I have managed to keep toy guns out of our house, why am I participating in a diversion that may imply that I have (fatally) used a gun? And so, I ask my readers, especially those of you who also keep guns and toy guns out of your homes; would you, too, have qualms about participating in a “murder mystery” party?
(By the way, although I find myself questioning the idea, when the time comes, I will be showing up at the first home, salad in hand. My husband, who spends his days around people accused of crimes, will be there, too.)