Monday, November 1, 2010

The circular flow of candy

This weekend was a busy one for the Gans children. On Saturday, I took Child No.1 and Child No.2 to Washington DC for the Rally to Restore Sanity. It was Child No.1's birthday present and you can read my thoughts about the event here. The children absolutely loved the day. The whole event was completely unlike anything they had experienced and I am sure they will remember it for years to come.

But, of course, that wasn't the main event of the weekend. Sunday was, of course, Halloween. You may recall that it was Number One on the list of things they looked forward to being in the US. They had never really experienced it. Indeed, neither had I. I could not believe the sheer volume of activity there was. We had bought huge bags of candy from Costco and it was all gone by 7:30pm. We toured neighbourhoods lit up and decorated. One family had actually built a pirate ship manned by skeletons on a harbour on to the front of their house. It was incredible.

I toured around with Child No.3 on the 5 to 6pm run -- while it was still light out. She was dressed as a black cat. She was a little unsure at first in going up to houses but soon got into the swing of things. Of course, she kept on wanting to eat her goodies as soon as she got them. I was hoping to space it out a little but failed.

Child No.2 toured with a friend for almost three hours and brought home an impressive haul. He built himself a costume as a MacBook Pro -- complete with his own live head on YouTube. It was an impressive engineering feat as he used only materials lying around the house to fashion the device. The costume lasted the evening but has no fallen apart. Nonetheless, it got quite the reaction in our neighbourhood.

No one had been looking forward to Halloween more than Child No.1. I didn't even have the heart to impose a health tax on the night's activities (To be sure, if I had, it would have been based on market value). The problem is that as a 7th grader, she large cohort had been there all before. So out she popped dressed as Indiana Jones only to find that her colleagues wanted to do a little trick or treating before retreating to one of their houses. Apparently, some boys went out and got with the spirit but my daughter didn't realise that was on and so missed out. She came home with a reasonable haul but it wasn't of the scale she had been hoping for. Sadly, she had outgrown Halloween before she had a chance to experience it. She might have been better off putting up with her younger brother.

But I have to say that, as an economist, this entire evening is a curious one. Let us be clear what happened. We all bought bags of candy. We then gave it out while sending our own children to collect more. A simple adding up constraint suggests that the total consequence of the evening was a massive redistribution of individual candy but probably not much change in the aggregate household acquisition. Basically, we just bought our kids a ridiculous amount of special treats and tacked on a hunting task to the endeavour. The candy industry must be thrilled with this turn of events. 

Sadly, there was little innovation to be seen. One house gave out little toys which thrilled everyone. Another gave out fair trade chocolate. But because of the completely irrational fears about poison or something (and let me tell you, from an economic point of view, Halloween is the worst possible time to engage in murder without consequence), no one could make anything and it was difficult to step apart from the crowd. This only occurred to me too late. What remains is a flow of candy in a game of musical chairs where everyone can sit. I can see why 7th graders might get tired of it after a decade or so.