Eggs, ethics, and economics: a parable for the election



Easter Sunday, and it’s a beautiful morning with a full church. The resurrection is celebrated, and we spill outside for the important business of the day: the Easter Egg hunt. Roughly 40 children, between the ages of two and twelve, and 250 (admittedly small) eggs. But how to proceed?

Last year, the powers-that-be (me) unilaterally declared that all eggs would be shared. Children scramble to find as many as they can, but bring them back to a central point, where, at the end, they are divided equally among all participants. It seemed to me this was the Christian way: a fair system ensuring the youngest and slowest did not miss out.

Or, in retrospect, a benign dictator pushing a communist economic agenda.

This year even my own kids rebel. ‘What is the point, Daddy,’ asks number one, in an exasperated tone, ‘if we just have to share them all at the end?’ ‘Yeah, Daddy’, pipes up number two, ‘where’s the incentive to collect?’

Seven years old, and he has identified the problem of the free-rider that bedevils my socialist experiment. So this year, we harness the power of self-interest.

‘You can keep all the eggs you find,’ I announce at the end of the service, ‘up to a limit of ten. After that you need to stop and let the little kids have a chance.’ We appoint an egg monitor to keep watch, and keep back a small number of eggs to give to those who miss out altogether.

I like to think of it as a market approach, but with a strong regulatory framework, and a welfare safety net.

This time, of course, eggs are not equally shared. There are winners and losers in the new egg economy. One or two of the children voluntarily give some of their eggs to those who’ve collected fewer. Nice to see that some kind of Christianity has rubbed off on them. But not enough. Charity, it seems, needs supplementing with enforced redistribution. So welfare eggs are handed out to latecomers and toddlers who’ve missed out, though provision falls below expectations. We have misjudged how many eggs to keep back. Egg austerity hits the smallest and weakest.

There’s feedback from the egg monitor. She suspects some kids made off with more than ten eggs, but felt unable to intervene. She’d also like a whistle. In short, it transpires the regulator is toothless and needs more powers.

I ponder whether an egg cap is needed at all. Next year, we could make kids hand over the first (say) four eggs they collect for redistribution, after which they keep the rest without any upper limit. As a system, easy to understand and administer, but hardly progressive. Better perhaps to tax all the kids a fixed percentage of their collected eggs. Get the tax rate right, combine it with the right minimum egg guarantee, and we wouldn’t even need to keep eggs back in advance: the market would do it all.

I concede I may be overthinking things. Three years writing a doctorate on the relationship between theology and economics, and I still don’t have any answers. But the intersections of ethics and economics don’t get much more complicated than this.

Figure out the right way to run the egg hunt, and we’ve figured out the way to run the world.


3 thoughts on “Eggs, ethics, and economics: a parable for the election

  1. Denis Browne says:

    What about counting the number of kids who need help with their egg collecting. Setting aside say 5 eggs times the number to be helped and then letting everyone see how well they can do. (Free enterprise plus Social Service plus opportunity for Christian giving)

  2. david broad says:

    Assuming finding a minimum number of eggs to be essential for each participant , and without over-stretching the analogy to ‘society’ , you may wish next year to try either a ‘handicap’ system ( earlier start on age to find low-hanging eggs ) or work in teams obliged to share their finds .

    David Broad

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