Sharing the chocolates

10th September, 2005

Dear Economist,
My wife is a lady of leisure. From time to time, I like to bring home a box of chocolates for us to share. I’ll have one or two that night, but you can be sure that by the time I get home the next evening, the entire box will have been scoffed. What to do?
Yours sincerely,
Tom Fletcher, Surrey

Dear Tom,

Your difficulty is that the property rights here are not secure, and while you believe that the chocolates should be split roughly half-and-half, your wife clearly does not see it that way.

In a less intimate relationship, the answer would be easy: decant the chocolates into separate his-and-hers Tupperware containers. Anyone who has seen a student fridge will know the phenomenon, which works well as long as there are no outright thieves in the house. However, the metaphorical sharp elbows involved may take the gloss off the romantic gift you wish to share with your wife.

An alternative: subtly discourage your wife from gluttony. Use a fridge magnet to display a photograph of a suitably Rubenesque model. The comediennes Bella Emberg or Roseanne Barr may be suitable. This may subconsciously dissuade her from eating too many chocolates. If challenged, declare your affection for the classics of comedy. But even with a cover story as convincing as this, your wife may still look at you strangely.

So I suggest that you will simply have to work around the lack of property rights. Entrepreneurs in poor countries often do this by trading in small quantities. The transaction costs are higher, of course, but not prohibitively so in your case. Your motto should be “a little, and often”. I recommend that next time, instead of buying the doomed box of chocolates, you simply buy a romantic pair of soft centres.

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