Public Policy: The SenKulkarni Household Edition

If you thought economics was hard, wait till you get to public policy.

Last week on Monday, I’d written about screen-time in the SenKulkarni household. If you’d like the TL;DR version here it is:

  1. We had a contest about who would have the least screentime between I, my wife and my daughter.
  2. Winner gets to choose what to do for Sunday lunch, while the loser has a horrific (personalized) punishment inflicted on them.
  3. I promised an update a week down the line.

And so here’s the update: we’ve learnt that designing interventions is tough.

  1. Our daughter simply parked her tablet in our car. Her personalized punishment was ugh vegetables in her lunchbox, and the thought filled her with such horror that she chose to forsake screen-time altogether. That’s the good news.
  2. The better news is that she finished one book, and got started on another. Since she’s not a bookworm, this is a particularly welcome development. (The Young Pandava series, if you’re curious.)
  3. My wife was trailing badly at the end of the first day, and she simply gave up and conceded defeat for the entire week. Lesson learnt.
  4. What lesson, you may ask. Well, if you design a policy, a very long time horizon probably won’t work. Seven daily contests might have been better than one weekly contest.
  5. Since she conceded defeat, she would have to live with our dog’s fur on her favorite sofa in the living room, for that was the punishment for her. She got around the issue by saying that she wouldn’t clean the sofa, but nor would she make tea in the morning.
  6. This is what comes of having two people who’ve been taught game theory in the same household. Pah. Designing incentives is tricky, folks!
  7. My screen-time went down by 20%, roughly speaking, this past week. But that’s not saying much, since it was pretty bad the week before. I simply had no incentive to reduce my screen-time once the contest was “over” after the first day.
  8. I’m not going to be in Pune for much of this week because of work, so we’ll get back to this contest with some tweaks next Monday.
  9. If, in the meantime, you have suggestions and tips, send ’em in.
  10. Navin tweeted about last week’s post, and got some fascinating responses. This one was my favorite:

11. Goodhart’s law is everywhere!

But in all seriousness, think about this:

This was a simple policy designed to get three people in one household to reduce their screen-times, and the first iteration has been a glorious failure. The next time you want to blame any government the world over for a poorly thought out public policy, do keep in mind that it is harder than it seems. Don’t get me wrong, blame ’em, make fun of ’em, and feel free to lament about how things never work around here.

But throw in a sprinkling of grudging respect for having tried at all in the first place 🙂