David R. Henderson  

Markets for Everything: Managing Worms Edition

Bryan Caplan is Not Like Warre... More Evidence for ZMP...

More evidence against Zero Marginal Product (ZMP)

"Manage our worm bin!"

That was the help-wanted note new mom Rachel Christenson posted a few weeks ago at online marketplace TaskRabbit Inc. Neither she nor her husband wanted the "gross" job of dealing with an overflowing compost bin, so she clicked her mouse in search of someone who would do her dirty work.

After about 11 hours and a few crazy questions like, "Are your worms nice?" Ms. Christenson, 27 years old, found a taker. Douglas Ivey, a 45-year-old research scientist, drained the "worm juice" from the bin, put back the compost, mixed in newspaper and hosed it all down. The price? $31. "That guy was bold," says Ms. Christenson, of San Francisco. "He just jumped right in."

"It was completely disgusting," says Mr. Ivey, who added, "I don't mind. Actually, I find the really gross jobs pay pretty well."

This is from Emily Glazer, "Serfing the Web: Sites Let People Farm Out Their Chores," Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2011.

Great line: "Companies like this are really tackling things like unemployment in an efficient, viable way," Mr. Kutcher [one of the customers] says.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Labor Market

COMMENTS (3 to date)
Tyler Cowen writes:

I wouldn't hire just anybody to manage my worm bin!

Antonia writes:

I agree that websites like TaskRabbit Inc. can be beneficial to those unemployed in the short run by providing a little extra cash. If Ivey was unemployed and he made an extra $31 from draining the worm juice that would be beneficial to him and Ms. Christenson, this would be a simple example of a market working efficiently. But the article does not state that he is unemployed or that he will become a full time compost maintainer so stating that websites such as TaskRabbit Inc. are “tackling things like unemployment in an efficient, viable way,” in this case is a bit of a stretch.

A note on the title of this post: “More Evidence Against Zero Marginal Product,” how is this situation evidence against zero marginal product? This post is promoting the benefits of people being able to allocate their household chores to people who are willing to do them in exchange for wages. That means the original “workers” in this case would be Ms. Christenson and her husband, both of whom were unwilling to do the work of draining the compost bin and therefore should not be considered workers. There is only one worker in this case, Ivey, so of course there would be positive marginal product of adding a worker to a job no one else would do.

[econlib url removed--Econlib Ed.]

Rick Hull writes:


Due to shorthand, I think there is a misconception about what Dr. Henderson means by "ZMP". I think we can all agree that ZMP exists as a phenomenon. The argument is over how prevalent this phenomenon is. Some argue that a great portion of the labor force's MP approaches Z.

> There is only one worker in this case, Ivey, so of course there would be positive marginal product of adding a worker to a job no one else would do.

I think Dr. Henderson would agree with you. Identifying these jobs that no one else would do is what allows a ZMP worker to go positive. The idea is that many more such identification opportunities exist, such that ZMP may not actually be such a large problem today.

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