Game Theory

Suppose you’ve got a teenager who isn’t afraid of work. (A miracle!) He’s making a few bucks mowing lawns. He started doing that years ago when he mowed the neighbor’s lawn at age twelve. You’re lucky to have such good neighbors. Your kid strings together a few customers by going place to place with the modest vehicle you (as a kind parent) have given him. All is well until the vehicle needs a couple hundred dollars in repair. He’d saved maybe half of that but can’t quite swing the full cost.

The kid has a choice; park his ass on the couch and never work a day again or sell his beloved collection of dusty Pokemon cards and vintage Xbox games to buy a muffler. Being a product of public schools he makes a decision that makes sense to him and doesn’t move from the couch for six weeks. The school system approves since they take a dim view of child labor. Good parent that you are, you drive his car to the mechanic and have the damned muffler replaced. This is called a bailout. Soon he’s mowing lawns again. It’s nice to have the couch back!

What you don’t know is that the day he saw the car running again he took the $50 he’d saved toward a muffler (still not enough) and blew it on a Twilight poster and collector’s edition X-Games memorabilia. At least he’s working. He drives around mowing lawns until the next time the car needs repair. He’s already spent all of his earnings on skull motif skateboard graphics and platinum tipped iPod earbuds. He didn’t feel the need to save for repairs because he knows you’ll bail him out. Remember this the next time a politician claims a particular business needs a bailout. I’m looking at you GM! The kid lies on the couch like a beached whale. Speaking of bloated and immobile I’m still looking at you GM!

You try to ignore it but it you can only stand so much. One day you trip over a line of Cheetos bags leading to the couch and blow your top. You tell him to get his ass back out there and make some money. All he does is grunt and wave listlessly at an estimate for a new transmission. Ouch! You don’t want to do a second bailout because two bailouts means the first one was a failure. I’m looking at you Chrysler!

You offer to pay half the car’s repairs? Too late. The kid is fossilized in place. Car or no car he’s busy watching South Park. So you offer to pay half his car expenses and all his gas from now on…if only he’ll get off the damned couch. You hand him a gas card. The car repair is a matching fund and the gas card is a subsidy. The kid springs into action and anything he owns that isn’t nailed down goes on e-bay. Soon the car is fixed and he’s out there mowing lawns again. You’ve made a wise move.

Wrong! You’ve distorted the economy…or at least distorted it for this kid. Any time you tinker with anything economic you risk unintended (or intended!) consequences. Sometimes they can be bizarre. I’m looking at you Congress!

The next month the gas bill comes in and you realize he’s been driving to Pasadena to mow a lawn that only pays $10. Good grief that’s a lot of miles for a ten spot! The kid shrugs. With free gas he can drive a long way. You learn that a hot girl lives at the house in Pasadena. There’s another hot girl in Fresno. Possibly a few more you don’t know about. Your kid is racking up a thousand miles a week and making a pittance mowing lawns as an excuse to stalk anything with a skirt that likes short grass. At least he’s off the couch.

The next month the gas bill comes in and you have a coronary. Your kid dumped the lawn gig and is delivering pizzas. Since his gas is free he’s making bank. Your neighbor’s kid was delivering pizza before your kid showed up and offered to take the same job for a nickel less per hour. Your kid can afford lower wages since he’s got all that free gas. The neighbor’s kid is now unemployed and parked on his parent’s couch watching daytime soaps. The neighbors are pissed and talking about some sort of fair trade agreement. You never liked the neighbors anyway! Meanwhile your kid is dropping all his money on the hottie from Pasadena, including buying her a tattoo of Che Guevara put in a place you can’t believe she posted on Facebook.

When she dumps him you brace for him to camp out on the couch and cry. Instead he pours his soul into his work and drives the wheels off the car. Soon it’s worn out and he must choose a new one. He struts past the econoboxes with good MPG and buys a Hummer that gets 4 MPG. He uses his wages to buy a stereo so loud that it makes birds fall from the sky and God himself weep. The gas card is smoking but he holds up his end of the bargain and pays his half of the car purchase. The couch is blissfully empty. In fact he’s working so much he more or less disappears. You’re pleased with his work ethic.

Six months later you get a gas bill that causes your sphincter to implode. Unbeknownst to you, your kid has hooked up with a trucker named Large Marge and is using the gas card to fuel a Kenworth en route to Fargo with a load of Kumquats. But that’s not all. Tanks of diesel have been purchased in Abilene, Winnipeg, Miami, Seattle, Des Moines, Huston, Las Vegas, and Guadalajara.

Eventually the gas card bursts into flames. Watching the bills come in has given you a working knowledge of just how much fuel a semi can consume. You realize that your kid and Large Marge have been team trucking where one drives while the other sleeps so the truck has been running coast to coast 24/7 on your dime. Your neighbor’s kid is still on his dad’s couch and moss is growing on him. The deadbeat neighbors piss you off! The credit agency puts you on a payment plan. You can just barely make ends meet if you stop taking your heart medication and sell your dog. It’s worth it. Then they repossess your couch.

So what’s the moral of the story? Nothing. The kid didn’t show morals so there is no moral to the story. Cool eh? Instead of morality the kid showed cool calculating economic logic. Free gas was a resource to be exploited. In subsidizing a resource, you made it logical to maximize consumption of that resource to the exclusion of others. In the absence of morality it makes perfect sense to seek and exploit subsidy to the greatest extent possible.

Why write this story? Oh, no reason. Did I mention that they’re discussing another stimulus plan in congress? Or that it’s an election year? Nah…that’s off topic.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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