The Tender Years

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
18 October, 2019

Despite all your predictions to the contrary, the children still have not colluded against me.

On finding out that the Crampton household’s way of divvying up the chores is somewhat nonstandard, I reported on it in a May 2018 Insights column in case others might find it helpful. I was honestly a bit surprised that nobody else seemed to have figured out this obvious solution.

For specific chores that go over and above the ordinary household expectations, we use a sealed-bid tendering system. We put up the chores we would like to have done; the children submit their bids to perform those chores; we announce the winners of the chores and then tell each child, privately, what they will earn for completing them. The system works well. Whenever one of the children complains about chores, we point out that we have another contractor available to pick up the task instead. And the task gets done.

Many of you warned me, by email, that the children were likely to collude against us. But the children do not know the true maximum we might we willing to pay for any chore. And we committed to not necessarily accepting the lowest bid, or indeed any bid. The government also helps by prohibiting other families from hiring our young children to perform tasks in their households instead at higher rates, so we enjoy some helpful monopsony powers.

Two weeks ago, we put the chores up again for tender as it had been a while, and one of the children was very keen to be rid of the cat box contract.

Results? The child tired of cleaning the cat box put in a very high bid for that service and lowballed the bid for mopping and vacuuming while the child who knew that the cat box had become more contestable did not increase the bid for that service.

We are paying about the same amount overall, with a task-swap between the two children – and, crucially, with both children very happy with the swap instead of fighting about who would have to clean the cat box.

So there has been, as yet, no collusion. Even if they do eventually wind up colluding against us, they will have learned valuable lessons in cooperation. And that is okay too.

Stay in the loop: Subscribe to updates