For all the smiley faces and show of "oh, isn't this just great", I can't help but think there are some serious issues lurking below the surface.
But hey, what do I know? I've only been married for 17 years and have two kids.
What I find amusing is this sort of money-as-substitute-for-all-valuations thing going on. No matter how "cute" or "novel" this idea is, underlying it all is the implicit assertion that every single thing a person does has a monetary value. I understand the appeal, and the rather strong strain of libertarianism/Jon Galt-ism that runs rampant in computer science makes this couple an unsurprising place to find such a viewpoint in practice (even if they personally don't adhere to such a view).
It also absolutely does not work well with children. Children, as even these two no doubt can attest, don't value things in terms of money or opportunity cost or any other such abstraction until and unless they have been taught to do so. They have basic needs that must be met, and generally in a way that isn't compatible with the incentivised behavior models that this couple present.
On a personal note, I find it a bit too "nerd cutesy." It's like they're trying too hard to be hardcore nerds about their everyday life. My first thought wasn't, "wow, that's a novel way to bring levity into the daily chore drudge." It was more like, "this reminds me of people parodied in Portlandia scenes where the main characters are having a back-and-forth about who knows who or what trendy indie publications/books they've each read." More power to them if it works, but it's not for me.
In technical terms, it's a quasilinear utility function, where preferences are linear in money.
Any system that works well for everyone in the relationship is a good one.
Married 26 years with four kids :)
But in reference to the article in question: would this system work for you? If not, isn't there a chance it really won't work for these people, for the same reason?
I'm pretty confident it wouldn't work for my wife and I. If you're completely spent at the end of the day, do you really want to lose a bidding war with your spouse to do some extra work? Doesn't one party risk building resentment merely because they're the poorer in the relationship?
And what does this look like to the kids after a while?
I agree completely with your point that communication is hard. I just think that this "solution" is merely beautiful fondant covering a possibly shaky foundation; money should never be a long-term or routine motivator in a loving relationship.
AFAICT what this system appears to allow for is an open and honest process of outright negotiation around how the household works.
I cannot see a downside for that, and have seen (and practiced on many occasions) much more negative approaches - arguing, resentment, grudging, self-martrydom and so on.
If you and your partner are both completely spent at the end of the day then you can negotiate the remaining work, neglect it, or have one person accept it.
All of those are reasonable options at different times, what is important is not the individual decision, but the overall pattern and the process of communication and negotiation you use to get there.
To the kids it probably looks like mum and dad are negotiating over who gets to put them to bed. Ive (sadly) had my kids listen through arguments around that at times, and many other things, and overall they appear to have survived and even done pretty well, although they are still young so who knows.
I think it is fantastically easy for someone outside a relationship to look at it and go "that relationship is broken, there is no way it can work", and be completely wrong (or right).
Relationships tend to be pretty unique things. Maybe theirs is in good shape, and maybe it is not, but in general I dont see a problem with any process that helps them negotiate openly and honestly about what they want.
It is also fantastically easy to speculate on how badly kids will be damaged by behavior you personally dont agree with.
If you scrape the surface of why they are together and what their motivations are, I doubt it is the money. The money merely provides a proxy for them to build discussions around.
....or maybe their relationship really is based on money, who knows....
You're quite right that it's better for the kids to see us bidding to not have to put them to bed than to hear us arguing about it.
(You're also quite right that the primary value of involving money is simply to quantify preferences to determine what's socially efficient. Following through with the payments is needed to keep us honest in expressing our preferences, and also adds fairness by compensating the loser for not getting their way. But that part's more icing.)
Sheesh. We all have a few things in common, but beyond that different people really can be different. Especially when it comes to how to manage family relationships. In my experience, anyway. Be careful of generalizing from yourself to folks you've never met.
I don't know...people are really different from one another, especially when it comes to core beliefs and communications style.
there has somehow spread the attitude that "being an adult" means that you have to do life's unpleasant-but-necessary chores, and make no attempt to alleviate their unpleasantness. i've also seen complaints about companies that offer things like on-site laundry services, that they are somehow infantalising their employees, or shielding them from having to grow up and live in the real, adult world where people do their own shit. no. if something is unpleasant and there is a legitimate way that you can do all three of not do it, still have it get done, and hurt no one in the process, that is clearly a better way!
"Daddy, why don't you want to put me to bed?" and "Daddy, why do you pay Mommy more to put me to bed than Timmy?"
Edit: to address your subsequent update...
"there has somehow spread the attitude that "being an adult" means that you have to do life's unpleasant-but-necessary chores, and make no attempt to alleviate their unpleasantness."
There is NOTHING that can alleviate the unpleasantness of changing a blow-out diaper or dealing with a feverish, vomiting child at 3am.
So what you're really asking is "How do you balance honesty and protecting childrens' feelings?" Which is not a flaw of a bidding system, at least not more so than any other system where you actually talk about what you want.
How a robotic AI with long extending arms in every room?
An act of God?
Or maybe a maid...
Mayhap paying your wife $20 to do it?
These are all reasonable suggestions.
It's just a much faster way to get to that conclusion than feeling each other out with words. :)
This is just the first one I've heard of where there's a frigging ledger.
However, we take our responsibility for the well being of the pile of dishes in the sink much less seriously.
 Yes, that's actually me and my spouse (also cofounder of http://beeminder.com and if you think our auction-based lifestyle is crazy, wait till you see Beeminder! :)).
I guess the danger is if you start to worry that the debt will never actually get repaid. But that doesn't seem like a worry right now. We'll come up with payments plans and whatnot if it ever does. We do use a 6% interest rate on that balance, which seems steep at current market rates, but not so much so that Bethany would want to transfer Beeminder equity to me to pay it off.
So I guess no tips on how to actually orchestrate something like this. Last year we had our biggest press coup just by having our phone number at the bottom of beeminder.com. Southwest Airlines inflight magazine called us after trying and failing to find a number for our competitor, GymPact.
I guess that's the real tip here: be so crazy that journalists seek you out. :)
Re:beeminder, I know that you address this on your FAQ, but my conscience would have little problem lying to your website to keep from paying you $10. Whereas I would be much less likely to be dishonest if 50%-80% of my penalty was going to a charity - even if the penalty levels were increased such that your cut was the same either way.
Who pays for college? Who pays for food? Maternity leave? Career switching. This list goes on.
Having separate finances is not exactly a new idea, plenty of people do that. My partner and I have completely separate finances, but equally share expenses like food, housing, repairs, etc. Works fine for us!
If they get a house they both want, and both can afford, they split 50/50.
Hypothetically, I'm guessing that if whoever made more income wanted a nicer place than the other, they could pay an agreed proportion more (eg, 60/40)
It's not like a... wait. I just had an idea. Could a roommate of theirs live off of yootling? Bidding well, a person could more or less do their busy work for them, get "paid" for it, and use those payments to subsidize their costs of living!
Anyway, what I was going to say was that the money aspect of this seems mostly as a way to keep the bets honest. You don't really want wild bets of, say, $1,000,000 or whatever, because then fair market value for the activity becomes impossible to assess.
Or something like that. The person with the PhD should probably explain it.
In that article, she mentions in passing the general case. From this, it seems like it would totally work with three people.
There are n participants, each with some share — i.e.,
some fraction — of a decision. Everyone submits a sealed bid,
the second highest of which is taken to be the Fair Market
Price (FMP). The high bidder wins, and buys out everyone else’s
shares, i.e., pays them the appropriate fraction of the FMP.
My biggest question is how to handle this when the household has a single source of income.
You mean, could a roommate of theirs work as a live-in maid?
It also helps me figure out how much I value things, because my default is to be pretty noncommittal with my preferences, and this forces me to recognize them and make them explicit.
That said, I'm fully intent on doing something like this with my children. Instead of an allowance of some kind, I think kids would learn a lot about the real world if you paid them for doing chores and performing well at school, then docked them accordingly for food, board, rent and expenses.
I wonder what her bid was for him to have the baby.
It would have to have been considerably more than $30,000. Surrogacy alone runs upwards of $60K. She was clearly lowballed.
The inefficiency was probably due to a lack of market transparency or external bidding. Clearly next time they should invite third parties in.
Also, what is the value to her to experience the process of having a baby? Ubber-rich women still have their own babies, so there would appear to be a value in the experience.
Another question I have: what about requirements? (this has come up in my own relationship) Suppose the two partners have different ideas of what constitutes "cleaning the house". One might think that mopping and wiping dust off furniture is necessary, while the other might think vacuuming does it. In a real situation, the two contractors don't just compete on price but on product. But in this case product never enters, unless there's a careful discussion up front about exactly what the requirements of the job are. This doesn't really sound like it would decrease stress to me.
This is essentially how my partner and I have divided up housework -- the person whose requirements for "done" are a superset of the other's does the chore. Fortunately we're fairly balanced in that regard.
For example, my long-term girlfriend has an art degree, and I'm a professional developer. It's likely that I will make more than her for the foreseeable future; maybe as much as 1.5x to 2x. Should I do half the housework? It seems like that leads inexorably to the 1950s logic of "I bring home the bacon so you should keep the house."
(That said, it seems to be working for these two, so more power to them. :) )
Bethany and I philosophically bite the bullet on this, which is basically ... the wealthy person gets their way all the time and the poor person gets what's to them a lot of money and everyone is happy.
If that's unpalatable or feels unfair then I think the principled solution is for the wealthy person to simply redress the unfairness with a lump sum payment to redistribute the wealth.
I don't think it's reasonable -- ignoring all the psychology and social intricacies, as I'm wont to do [https://xkcd.com/592/] -- to object both to auctions with disparate wealth and to lump sum redistribution to achieve fairness.
Now that I'm introspecting, I suppose it's the case that Bethany and I tend to seize excuses to redistribute wealth, but they have to be plausible ones.
Rather than everyone being happy, this (historically) ends rather more often in bloody revolution.
Personally, I believe that one rarely understands other people, and has no chance of understanding other people's relationships, so I'm disinclined to say that this is a bad idea. It's your relationship and I hope it works out well for you. But if anyone I knew told me that this is how they were operating, I'd have a hard time staying friends. Intimate relationships (romantic and otherwise) are based on releasing control and making compromises, and taking an accounting of everything in this way indicates not that you're being fair, but that you're not actually in a "relationship" per se.
But I think you'll probably have to permanently redistribute wealth within your relationship or else I can imagine it breeding resentment. Cashflow is going to make a bigger difference in all the little disputes that will grow into bigger disputes.
Or you could apply an inflation multiplier on your respective bets adjusted to the ratio of your respective incomes - but then the exercise may become moot as it renders it as less simple dispute settling mechanism.
At the end of the day, you still have to apply some psychology above and beyond your auction market - the article concludes with
>Recently Danny and Bethany haggled to see if he would drive her home after a long day of work or if she would have to ride her bike. She bet $15, and he intentionally "lost," so that he could do her the favor.
> Here's another example of real-world yootling: I worked late at the office yesterday and once all our beemergencies were dispatched, we had an auction over IM to see if Danny would come pick me up from the office or if I'd ride my bike / the bus home:
> [IM transcript where sealed bids are revealed to be 15 (Bethany) and 14 (me); we have a hipchat bot to facilitate this]
> So Danny came to fetch me, and I paid him 0 * 14
> To clarify "drive you halfway home" was my way of offering to make it a joint decision whether to drive her home. So I'd either drive her home and she'd pay me something or I'd not drive her and pay her something. That probably sounds impossibly weird. The advantage is that I can offer the favor and the auction makes sure it only happens if she values it more than it costs me. Ie, it's the quantified equivalent of "are you sure? don't you need to get to sleep yourself?" etc.
> Yootling to do her the favor is mathematically equivalent to doing her half the favor. Or you can think of it like this: I'm committing to either doing her the favor for less money than she values the favor, or to giving her an amount of money equal to how much she values the favor.
> Again, the real point is just to make sure the favor only happens if it's actually socially efficient -- if it's not more skin off my nose than the favor is actually worth to her.
Also, assuming both partners are working roughly equally, I don't think it is fair to split the household contributions based on money earned. eg. If I'm a software developer making $150,000 and I'm married to a teacher who is making $50k and we both work full-time, it makes no sense for me to expect her to contribute 2/3rd more effort at home -- her job is probably more stressful, draining and in most ways "harder" than mine.
Bam. Solved. (read: "this post is slightly tongue-in-cheek")
We both have a 'piggy bank' we can spend on anything without the others input.
Each week we get an allowance + bonuses for extra chores.
But I don't actually understand that objection. Seems analogous to taking Walt Whitman's side in this exchange: http://www.scottaaronson.com/writings/whitman.html
I might have to concede that the whole thing is untenable unless you actually enjoy geeking out about the game theory and mechanism design and whatnot.
Another funny auction today, with discussion in our Beeminder developer chatroom. We also conducted the auction via a chatbot that we wrote [https://github.com/aaronpk/zenircbot-bid]. You'll see what I mean: (there's actually another little auction that happens as well)
D: /bid with @bee for skate in with keys
Bot: Ok, collecting bids from: @bee, @dreev
Bot: Bidding complete! Here are the bids: @bee: 8, @dreev: 45
D: /roll 10
Bot: 1 [we upgraded the bot in the meantime so the dice rolling to determine
payment is built in]
D: now i have to pay bee $80 [$8*10] to not skate her the keys
Aaron: so confused
D: we can explain if you'd like!
D: here's a hypothetical normal-person equivalent of what just happened:
"i forgot my keys, any chance you were going to skate in soon?"
"i wasn't going to but i could, because i love you!"
"that's ok, honey, i'm fine at this coffee shop till my next appointment,
when i was going to come home anyway"
"well, ok, i'll let you fend for yourself. i'll clean the bathroom to make
it up to you."
D: so the bids replace the feeling each other out -- "i *could* skate in",
"that's ok", etc. -- and the payment replaces the "i'll make it up to you"
Uluc: Ok, I committed the change. It might be best if you took a look at the
source in case I screwed something obvious up. app/models/goal.rb line 197
D: /bid with @bee for deploying uluc's code
Bot: Ok, collecting bids from: @bee, @dreev
[nerd discussion about beeminder code redacted]
Bot: Bidding complete! Here are the bids: @bee: 0, @dreev: 10
[bethany deploys the code]
Aaron: do those bids mean bee doesn't care, and dreev was more willing to
pay $10 than to deploy?
D: did my normal-person equivalent make sense?
Aaron: sort of yes
D: we think of it as mathematically equivalent to me *halfway* skating
bethany the keys. i could've just done it cuz i'm nice, or she could've
just refused the favor cuz she's nice. instead we made it a 50/50 joint
decision for which outcome would happen so it's like half a favor. and
more importantly, it ensures the favor only happens if it's socially
efficient for the favor to happen
B: also, the "hey, i forgot my keys. were you planning to skate in today?"
"Not really, maybe." "Oh, well I was planning to come home after this
appointment anyway..." all did happen behind the scenes. but instead of
continuing that back and forth for another few iterations we stopped
there and yootled.
We are also both pretty cheap, and don't spend much money other than "I will give you $100 to go start tea for me."