Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Monday, May 16, 2005

The "C - Rule":
Optimization Subject to a Space Constraint

My son was telling me the other day about a rule their family has. Their daughter may buy or otherwise acquire some new object only after she designates something of approximately the same size that she owns for removal from the house.

She has a tendency to collect things, and her room became fairly seriously cluttered before a major cleaning and the implementation of what we now call, "the C - Rule" [named for our granddaughter, Rule Ricardo Palmer].

This situation is becoming increasingly common in North America. The primary short-run constraint in the acquisition of stuff is not a budget constraint, but a space constraint [I said, "short-run" because I realize in the long-run, one can purchase more convenient storage by buying a bigger house].

In previous generations, the typical reponse from a parent to "Can I have....?" was "We can't afford it."

Nowadays many families are wealthy enough that I often hear, "But where will you put it?"

  • After cleaning out my mom's house ten years ago,
  • after seeing my sister's garage,
  • after trying to navigate in my in-laws former home,
  • after trying to get rid of stuff as Ms. Eclectic and I have down-sized twice in the past 8 years,

I have a deep appreciation of the "C-Rule".

[Update: mysister took exception to my inclusion of their garage in this list.]

I also understand that optimization subject to a budget constraint might have less relevance for some of our intro students, but optimization subject to a space constraint might be more meaningful. "What is the marginal utility per cubic inch of space devoted to an extra GameBoy game vs. the marginal utility per cubic inch of space devoted to an additional DVD?" Well, maybe...... read on....

To see truly scary, horrifying, evidence that the space consraint is far less binding than most of us might think, click here to read about a woman who has filled her house with boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff. Spend some time looking at and reading about the photos. It will make you shake your head in disbelief [thanks to JC for the link]. It is overwhelming.

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