Friday, 25 May 2018

Household division of labour and sealed-bid tenders

In this week's Insights newsletter, I have a bit of fun with some econoparenting. 
I know that people who aren’t economists manage to raise kids and that it all seems to work out in the end, but I’m not entirely sure how.

I have learned that standard practice in the Crampton household diverges a bit from practice elsewhere. So gaze in awe, or horror, at our system for managing the more irksome household chores.

Some chores, the kids are happy to do just as part of being happy members of the family – and to get their dollar-a-day allowance instead of an amount discounted by the cost they imposed on their parents that day.

Other chores are less fun. Those go up for competitive sealed-bid tendering.

At the start of every quarter, we list the jobs that need to get done around the house.

We make a point of listing those chores that are more efficiently done by the source of the chore in the first place, and ones that we parents find particularly unappealing. So the kids can bid to do their joint laundry, fold it, and deliver it to their respective rooms. Vacuuming and washing the floors is another outsourced chore. And so is keeping the cat boxes in order.

The children submit sealed bids tendering for each of the chores – the weekly price they would charge for undertaking the chore satisfactorily. It is very important to define the tasks precisely, like the areas covered by a mop-and-vacuum requirement, or the frequency of cat box cleaning.

We tell the children that we need not necessarily accept the lowest or any bid. I look over the bids and award the chores for the quarter.

It has been transformational. Before we adopted the system, the kids would whine about doing chores. Now, we can threaten to shift to the other supplier. They each want to win as many chores as possible.

Aligning incentives can work wonders: instead of throwing mostly clean clothes in the laundry so that he doesn’t have to deal with re-folding them for another wearing, our ten-year-old makes sensible decisions and polices his sister as well.

And they haven’t yet started colluding against us, so that’s great too.

When I told folks around the office about our contracting arrangement, Oliver thought it was funny and told me to write it up for Insights. But I think it far more best-practice exemplar than satire.

Consider it for your upcoming third-quarter household planning.
The kids getting a bit taller will help. Right now there's only really one potential contractor on the laundry because the dryer is too high up for the other contractor. It's notionally contestable, but the current contractor will have to figure out that it'd be more expensive for us to use the other contractor on that one. And when they're tall enough to use the ironing board.....

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