Bargaining theory

Bryan Caplan says:

When the bachelor gets married, he almost certainly starts doing more housework than he did when he was single.  How can you call that shirking?

Megan McArdle says:

I’m no neatnik, but this is . . . daft…Does Mr Caplan think that "person with the lowest standards wins"
should be a general rule for marriage? Can women unilaterally quit
their jobs because they’re content with a lower standard of living, or
spend the retirement fund on shoes because they don’t mind spending
their golden years in penury?

I believe there is no simple Coasian answer to this problem.  Even if bargaining were possible the final deal would depend on the initial allocation of the property right.  That’s a sign that an apparently "small thing" (after all, how much do you spend on a maid, relative to family wealth?) is treated as having large symbolic importance.  And what does economics tell us about symbolic goods?  Symbolic goods usually have marginal values higher than their marginal costs of production; Americans for instance love the idea of their flags but the cloth is pretty cheap, especially if it comes from China. 

Going back to marriage, the theory of symbolic goods means the man should take the woman’s most irrational requests (flowers?  the placement of the toilet seat?) and go to the greatest lengths to satisfy them.  Expand output where marginal cost is low, which in this case refers us back to the gestures not the real efforts.  That’s part of the Nash bargaining solution, namely to make concessions where it costs the conceding party the least.  If there is a case for the man not cleaning more, it’s that greater net gains may be had from satisfying other, less rational demands of the complaining party, in this case the wife.

In other words, it is OK not to clean more, provided you insist on the contrary on your blog.

Oops.  Time to go clean up.


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