Switching from a communist to a capitalist economy

I never thought about it, but I was running my house like a commune.  The kids had chores to do, of course, but the incentive was the greater good, my approbation, and an allowance that, in their minds, had no relationship to the tasks demanded.  The kids did not find these incentives inspiring, and the days and works tended to be a blur of my pushing, and pushing, and their pushing back.  I was frustrated, they were resentful, and the house chaotic.

Aside from the practical stalemate of a sort of general household chaos, the “incentives” of “the greater good” and punishment did not work very well at controlling behavioral problems either.  The kids fought like cats and dogs, whined more than one would have thought possible, and thought that interrupting me was an Olympic sport.

Believe it or not, they are nice kids, but life has been a day to day struggle to achieve things that, in the perfectly run “communist” household of my youth, worked well.  As to my youth, my sister reminded me that it probably worked well because my mother, who is a lovely woman, nevertheless carried a a very big stick.  Also, my sister and I were exceptionally biddable children (probably because of that same stick).

I decided this summer to switch to capitalism, aided by the fact that the kids have very strong commercial desires — he wants a Rip Stick and she (I blush to admit this) Abercrombie clothes.  Here’s the method I devised:

I have a lot of big tasks in the house that have been bedeviling me, mostly in the form of closets that badly need organizing.  There are also the usual things of dirty kitchens, clean (but full) dishwashers, and stacks of clean, unfolded laundry.  I told the kids that, on a daily basis, I will assign them a task with a good salary.  Not a piddling 50 cents or $1 per task, but $5 to $20 per child, depending on the task’s magnitude.

There are conditions, however.  First, they must listen well as I explain the task.  Second, while doing the task, they cannot fight with each other or come whining to me.  If they don’t understand something, they may interrupt me only if it brings the task to a dead halt.  Otherwise, they have to set aside things that confuse them and wait until they’ve reached a functional wall.  If they commit any of the bad employee sins — not listening, fighting, whining, or excessive interrupting — I dock their pay, to the point where they may find themselves doing the task for no money at all.

My husband, to my surprise, thought this was a wonderful idea.  He offered a further incentive.  If the kids could get through the whole summer without having their pay docked, he’ll double whatever they earn from me.

We put the system in effect yesterday and it was the first day ever that the kids cleaned their rooms, tidied the house, and organized a closet without fighting, whining or interrupting me every second.  The whole thing flowed.  They leaped from project to project with enthusiasm and good will.  At the end of the day, they eagerly counted their earnings, projected ahead to the time at which they’d be able to make their purchases, and expressed surprise at (a) how fun it had been to work well and (b) how nice it was not to fight.

I couldn’t resist, of course, and gave them a little lesson in the differences between communism and capitalism.  They completely understood how, with money as the hub, we were all able to achieve our goals:  they moved further towards their Rip Stick and Abercrombie clothes, and I got a tidy house, an organized closet, and two well-behaved kids.

I’ll try to keep you posted on this capitalist experiment.

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  • Mike

    I don’t know if this will work but I got this in an email. If it doesn’t work insert your own dog.
    An older, tired-looking dog wandered into my yard; I could tell from his collar and well-fed belly that he had a home and was well taken care of.

    He calmly came over to me, I gave him a few pats on his head; he then followed me into my house, slowly walked down the hall, curled up in the corner and fell asleep.

    An hour later, he went to the door, and I let him out.

    The next day he was back, greeted me in my yard, walked inside and resumed his spot in the hall and again slept for about an hour. This continued off and on for several weeks.

    Curious I pinned a note to his collar: ‘I would like to find out who the owner of this wonderful sweet dog is and ask if you are aware that almost every afternoon your dog comes to my house for a nap.’

    The next day he arrived for his nap, with a different note pinned to his collar: ‘He lives in a home with 6 children, 2 under the age of 3 – he’s trying to catch up on his sleep. Can I come with him tomorrow?’

  • suek

    True story or not, I loved it, Mike! Copied and saved.

    My son married a woman with 3 daughters, the oldest of whom insisted that school work was too hard for her – well, at least too hard to earn good grades. He offered her $100 for each A she earned. She then proceeded to get straight A’s – that term and the next term. That pretty well destroyed the idea that she couldn’t do the work! They still have a problem with her…even money isn’t enough of an incentive at the end of the Junior year of high school!

  • 11B40


    My favorite Communism story:

    Back in the first half of the 70s, I got to go to Murmansk, USSR as part of the scientific staff on Columbia University’s oceanographic research vessel (R/V) Vema.

    While visiting one evening with our counterparts, their caviar and vodka, the discussion turned to earnings. The local’s take on the differences was summed up by their expression, loosely translated as, “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

  • Bonzo

    I have a visceral distaste for these kinds of incentives. I can’t explain why now but it is not capitalist vs. communist. My gut feeling is that these incentives are opposite of capitalist vs. communist.

    Have you considered charging rent? My guess is that rent is MUCH more expensive than cleaning the bathroom or picking up dog poop. How about charging for food?

    Rewards are good. I reward my dog. With that said when my dog ruins the kitchen or eats a sofa I put her in a cage and look into korean restaurants who might want a cheap dog.

    If kids do not do because it is right then payment for such grates with me.


  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    The problem, Bonzo, is that societal norms have taken away true negative incentives. It used to be you had the stick of spanking and the carrot of parental approval. Now, you have no stick, and parental approval is not much of a carrot absent that stick. You have to dig deep into the positives territory to make things work.

  • http://helenl.wordpress.com/ Helen Losse

    Bonzo hit the nail on the head. We all must do some things because they are the right things to do. We only reward children for putting pee pee in the potty for so long. That length is until one is trained. What happens when they go to college, and their roommates refuse to pay? It’s lie dessert as a reward for cleaning one’s plate. It teaches the wrong lesson.

  • suek

    >>We all must do some things because they are the right things to do.>>

    Or what? That’s a very responsible adult view – I certainly don’t disagree with it. The problem is that children are _not_ responsible adults. How do we get them to become that? Her children have already – in one day – learned that they can do the work, and that it’s pleasant to get it done in minimal time and without the bickering and fighting. They say it takes 3 weeks to form a habit. So…a month from now, Book and up the ante, and begin to expect certain tasks to be free, and _other_ tasks to be paid for. Gradually, they will enforce it on each other – they’ll like how things are and complain if the other hasn’t kept up on chores… but you have to get them started somehow!
    What method did _you_ use with your children?

  • Ymarsakar

    What happens when they go to college, and their roommates refuse to pay?

    You need to study behavioral controls and Pavlovian conditioning.

    When human beings are conditioned to do work well and in a productive manner, it becomes a habit that they will continue to do even without the material rewards. The satisfaction of work done well and work done by your own hands is self-satisfying and thus once someone is in the habit of performing such things, it will become a self-reinforcing loop.

    And if the kids want money, they’ll go and work for it.

    The authoritarian and hence communist training of human beings only work when the stick is present. When young adults go out to college and no longer have to fear parental disapproval or the big sticks of the parents, they go hog wild on binge drinking and what not. If fear is the only thing that ever kept a person behaving well, then when you remove that fear, that person will no longer have any disincentives to behave well and he will have plenty of incentive (new experiences and rebelling against authority) to misbehave.

    Communism, as Book noted, only works because of the big stick of authoritarian command and fear. In politics, that means the secret police and a dictator that has the powers of jury, executioner, and appeal.

    I always suspect that the Baby Boomers were spoiled by their parents, probably because while the parents had paid in blood for liberty and life, the children had not. Thus the parents spoiled the children because the parents wanted for their children never to experience what the parents experienced in WWII. What this also meant is that the Baby Boomer generation never got that self-reinforcing sense of wellness and satisfaction that came from doing good works and having a purpose in life. Vietnam didn’t help either.

  • Ymarsakar

    Course, many of the WWII generation kept up the “old school” discipline stuff, but as times changed and the Baby Boomers got more liberty, freedom, and prosperity. The new generation felt free from parental disapproval and punishment and thus went hog wild.

    Look at Bush junior when he went to college away from his Presidential daddy.

    Now a days, however, we are missing discipline and hard core punishments. So the newest generation are not only spoiled but they lack any sense of fear of punishment as well. They have no sense of what “order” is, not even totalitarian order.

  • Ymarsakar

    You have to read this book, given its relevance on your post.


    The last century showed, in rather unmistakable terms, that capitalism is the much superior system in terms of generating wealth, but under capitalism, unfairness is impossible to avoid.

    Since we spend a great deal of time and energy trying to ensure that life is fair, a truly noble imperative, capitalism is counter-intuitive. It requires unlearning much of what we learn in our earliest years and gaining a much deeper and more nuanced view of the economy and fairness. In the end, those of us who evolve in our economic/political thinking recognize that capitalism is ultimately more moral and more fair to the greatest number of people. Unfortunately, far too many Americans are economically illiterate and well into adulthood operate as if the world should be designed the way a typical kindergarten works, where adult authorities make sure everyone plays nice and that all the toys are equally shared.

    No socialist, communist, or utopianist can ever remove the need for central authority from a government, any government.

    This is perfectly consistent, since the only way socialism and communism works is with a central authoritarian figure. The parent, the government, the secret police, the ideological police, etc.

    And it is still quite true, Book, that far too many Americans would prefer to have a totalitarian dictator run things than trying to make a small business work themselves.

  • gkong3

    The problem is this, though: Your home is NOT a popular democracy, where capitalism makes the most sense. It is rather an autocracy, a dictatorship, a tyrancy if there’s such a word.

    I dunno. I was brought up in a traditional Asian family, with the traditional belt and cane. Didn’t get whacked too often, but remember very well the times my ass got welted.

    Corporal punishment, as long as it’s ritualised and well-regimented, works great.

    Of course, looking at the dysfunction in the USA, your methods probably are the least bad of all bad options. Carry on, I say. Whatever works.*

    * Of course, you can consider that certain activities come with living in the house. Sorta like taxes.

  • Ymarsakar

    Autocracies can never continue to exist once merit is punished. Both Hitler and Stalin killed the best human resources in their nation. Their end, thus, was both logical and justified. Although for Stalin, the USSR took awhile to fall because active war was never engaged.

    The best benevolent dictatorships were always rewarders of merit and achievement.

  • suek

    >>Corporal punishment, as long as it’s ritualised and well-regimented, works great.>>

    Except you need to remember that Book lives in a state where the state legislature just recently (fortunately) voted down a law which would make such punishment by parents illegal. The law may have not passed, but the mindset of the populace is such that passing was definitely a possibility. Idiotic, but true.

    It brings to mind one of the basic differences between Liberals and Conservatives: Libs think that all mankind is basically good, and problems with unsocial behavior is due to genetics or upbringing. If they can just eliminate genetic defects and perfect socialization, we will have a society of perfect people, loving and kind in all things. Punishment for wrongdoing is unjust because they have already been punished by either having genetic defects or by having a defective upbringing. Conservatives believe that all humans are born with a basic defect of character that needs to be reformed and reshaped during childhood, and punished as necessary in adults. They believe that society has a right to punish wrongdoers and protect itself from them.

  • suek