For years the Parent/Child relationship has been used as a metaphor for the role of government both pro and con. There is a an implicit assumption that the family is a microcosm of socialism. Even the very free market F.A. Hayek believed that we act altruistically or socialistically at the family level. This inspired me to think about my children and how I maintain order at home. I am beginning to see the virtue of running my household more like a free market.
I joined Economist Bryan Caplan’s virtual book club a few weeks ago as he analyzes Murray Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty”. I have also been influenced by my friend Brian Phillips who is an Objectivist a la Ayn Rand.
Both Rothbard and Rand believe that the path to a moral society is to establish clear property rights. I’m not certain about it being moral, but if it helps me achieve my ends, then I’ll use it.
Here are my applications to toddler economics, of which I have two:
The living areas of the house are clearly a case of “Tragedy of the Commons”. That is, no one really “owns” the space so we all abuse the space, especially my boys. Therefore, the common areas must become the property of Mom and Dad. We allow the use of these areas by our boys if they follow our rules.
To encourage them not to abuse the “common areas” we have established a rule of use for the living areas and different rules for their rooms (being their property). Possession and proximity are the rules of temporary ownership for property brought into the living areas. That is, if child A leaves a toy on the couch and is now playing in the kitchen, said toy can become the temporary property of child O on possession. Permanent ownership is still conferred on the child of original ownership. In their rooms, all toys (property) are under their complete and permanent ownership. That is, if child A leaves a toy on his own bed, child O cannot take even temporary possession without explicit permission or compensation from child A. Thus, an incentive is used to maintain toys outside of the living areas.
Another minor rule for individual rooms is the right to exclusion. Child O may prevent child A from entering his room. Child O has the right to exclude child A from taking temporary possession of any property owned by child O within child O’s room.
On the subject of noise. We are all owners of our own bodies, and thus also our ears. If Child A shouts/screams this is a violation of property rights. He has caused me pain without compensation or permission. Therefore, shouting is only allowed outside and within their rooms with the door closed. At night, shouting violates the rights of the other child who is trying to go to sleep. This again is a violation of property rights.
And finally, to running and throwing objects in the house. The objects within the living areas of the house are the possessions of Mom and Dad (mostly Mom). To subject our property to risk of destruction without permission or compensation is a violation of our property rights. Because there is an objective probability that our property may be broken, throwing balls and running in the house are forbidden.
Any other thoughts? It’s actually pretty cool how this is working out.