It's not been often recently that Man Utd players have invited comparisons with some of the greatest geniuses of the last hundred years, but Adnan Januzaj has achieved this feat. Reading about his hapless date at Nando's reminded me of Richard Feynman and Hank Williams.
Plain signalling is very common. People go to university to try to signal to prospective employers that they are smarter than they really are, and they engage in expensive (pdf) conspicuous consumption to signal that they are richer than they really are.
Mr Januzaj, however, has done the opposite.In taking Ms McKenzie on a needlessly cheap date, he was counter-signalling - giving the impression that he was poorer than he really was.
This is where a parallel with Professor Feynman enters. When he was at Caltech, he used a topless bar as his office. This too was a counter-signal. He was signaling that he wasn't a pompous poker-up-the-arse academic, but a regular guy.
This poses the question: why engage in counter-signalling? One answer, analysed (pdf) by Rick Harbaugh is that "top" types do it to distinguish themselves from middling sorts. He gives the example of really bright students not boasting about their grades in order to distinguish themselves from average ones who did that sort of thing. The mega-rich who dress scruffily also do this; they are distancing themselves from arrivistes who dress expensively to flaunt their wealth. I suspect Professor Feynman also did this; he tried to distinguish himself from ordinary professors who did worry about propriety.
I suspect, though, that there are two other reasons.
One is simply that positive signals are expensive. It costs money to go to college or buy flash cars - and, in Feynman's case, signalling propriety would have meant missing out on seeing naked women. Why incur an expense if you don't need to?
The other is that a counter-signal is a selection device, used to select an audience or client base. For example, Hank Williams used his Luke the Drifter persona to signal to record buyers that some of his songs weren't juke box material. And high-end wealth management firms never advertise, because they don't want the hoi-polloi as clients.
I suspect this is what Mr Januzaj was doing. In choosing a cheap date, he was trying to select against gold-diggers and in favour of girls who might want him for himself rather than his wealth and fame; the fact that he's caught the eye of Chelsee Healey suggests he might - unusually for a Man Utd player - have got a result here. Granted, this particular date ended badly. But then, a failure to score has been the story of Man Utd's season.
Another thing: if you're wondering why I've written about a footballer's date rather than "proper" economics such as today's GDP figures then you've missed the point of this piece.