Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Economist Art Carden wrote a brilliant Halloween-themed essay for the American Institute for Economic Research. In Carden’s essay How Kids Create Wealth By Trading Halloween Candy; he details how voluntary trade makes all participants better off than they previously were. However, Carden uses an unorthodox example to demonstrate this point, children trading Halloween candy. As mundane as this simple example may seem, it serves as a powerful analogy defending unfettered trade. When we opt to exchange one commodity (most commonly money) for another product/service, we tend to value the commodity we are giving up less than the good we seek to obtain. This maxim implicitly validates the  Subjective Theory of value, first formulated during the Marginal Revolution in the 1870s. Children trading candy with their friends demonstrates far more than the subjective nature of value. It also indirectly dispels the flawed arguments of protections, bringing the old king’s gold fallacy to its knees in capitulation. The medium of exchange may intrinsically hold value, but this value rests in the goods and services that we can buy with it. A bar of gold may be valuable to us, however to man isolated on an island in a Robinson Crusoe-style model of autistic exchange (p.84) the gold bar is of little value. A man deserted on an isolated island has nothing to gain in trading the gold bar (no trading partners).  Clearly illustrates the fact that subjective worth of money exists in its utility for economic exchange. For a trick-or-treater who dislikes Twix candy bars, this variety of candy has no value as they would be more satisfied with  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. However, their friend who has the opposite candy preferences between the two types of chocolate candy would want a Twix over Reese’s cups. What both trick-or-treaters can do is trade their stock of Reese’s for Twix bars and vice versa. Similar to how we exchange with friendly nations that have a comparative advantage for goods that we desire. But stubbornly holding on to the candy that the trick-or-treats do not prefer is not doing them any favors. Much how forcing domestic production of goods the U.S. does not produce efficiently is economically inefficient and a waste of resources.

If trade isn’t an option, she’s simply stuck with a lot of candy she doesn’t want to eat. With access to a market consisting in this case of her brothers and friends, she can swap the caramel-containing candies she doesn’t want for non-caramel-containing candies she does. She is better off. Her trading partners are better off. There’s an important lesson here: by getting candy into the hands of those who value it most highly, the kids are creating wealth.

It’s a mistake to think that wealth consists of stuff. Wealth, rather, is whatever people value. For someone who likes Snickers bars, Snickers bars are wealth. For someone who doesn’t like Snickers bars, they aren’t wealth–unless they can be traded. If they can, the excess Snickers bars become wealth because they can then be swapped for something better.

https://www.aier.org/article/how-kids-create-wealth-by-trading-halloween-candy/

6 thoughts on “The Economic Lessons From Trading Halloween Candy

    1. I have wanted to blog about this essay for the past couple of Halloweens. It does an excellent job providing a simple example of how trade creates value.

      However, you have a point about the transaction costs. If the transaction costs are too high ( impede timely and efficient coordination) trade fails to produce value.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.