Saturday, March 10, 2007

Madeleine Shrugged

Two weeks prior to the submission deadline for the order form, my 8 year old daughter, Madeleine, had not sold ANY Girl Scout Cookies. This was disturbing to me because in the prior two years Madeleine had been among her Brownie troop's top sellers. This year she was off.

Madeleine was ecstatic the first year she sold Girl Scout cookies. The night she received her order form, she ran home and begged me to go with her that very night " get a jump on the market." (I kid you not, she said these exact words.) As a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist, I beamed. That's my daughter!

The next year was just as productive as the first, maybe better. In fact, Madeleine "employed" a younger next door neighbor boy to help her with sales. When I asked what that was about, she replied, "I'm not as cute as I was last year. Adam is so cute, people just can't help but buy cookies." I don't make this stuff up. Anyone with kids knows what I mean.

The first year, Madeleine was eager with enthusiasm. The second year, she was optimizing sales. What was wrong this year? Was she bored with commerce? Had she given up on the profit motive? I decided to explore further.

"Madeleine, why haven't you been selling your Girl Scout cookies?"

"Because I'm tired of selling for everyone else," she answered.

"What do you mean?" I pressed.

"Well, the first year we were told that if we sold the most cookies, we would win a prize, but in the end everyone got the same prize. The next year they told us the same thing, but we all got the same prize AGAIN! Even if you sold 1 box of cookies you got the same prize as the people who sold the most. I don't think that's fair."

Wow! From each Brownie according to her ability to every Brownie regardless of their contribution.

I called George P. Burdell, a man known widely for the efficient use of his invisible hand, and asked him what he thought. There was a long, thougtful pause.

"Apparently, incentives do matter. It sounds like Atlas shrugged to me."

Indeed...Madeleine shrugged.

Madeleine achieves economic enlightenment and levitates above the rest.

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