THE MESSY ROOMMATE THEORY OF NATO. The discussion of messy roommates yesterday presupposed an economic theory applying to small groups. In our hypothetical, assume the messy husband would clean the house once a month whether it was needed or not, and the wife can’t stand to let the house go more than a week without a cleaning. Other things being equal, one could expect the wife to be the only one to clean the house. In any event, the husband may be perceived to have a bargaining advantage in negotiating household chores. Richard Zeckhauser and Mancur Olson wrote a pioneering paper back in the sixties on what they called the Messy Roommate Theory of NATO. The article argued that European countries could see that the United States seemed to have a greater interest in defending Europe than did the Europeans themselves and that therefore it was not surprising that the United States bore a disproportionate share of the burdens of NATO. The European countries would therefore be “free riding” to an extent on the United States, just as the messy husband would be “free riding” on the efforts of the neat wife. What Bryan Caplan said to begin the discussions I posted on yesterday was that there is no reason to assume that the neat roommate’s values are correct and the messy roommate is free riding. From the messy husband’s point of view, to clean more than when it is absolutely necessary is a waste of time no matter who does the cleaning.

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  1. Lee says:

    Didn’t de Gaulle pursue a nuclear arsenal for France because he wasn’t certain America would be willing to clean house in case the Russians came calling? I imagine that’s not much of a stretch considering the stakes.

    Edit: I realize now I should have said his stated reason for getting the bomb was fear of being left in the lurch. This is politics, after all.

  2. Dick Weisfelder says:

    Don’t forget “grandeur!”

  3. Philip says:

    I always thought de Gaulle was right that French threat to use nuclear weapons in its own defense was inherently more credible. I have come to appreciate how important grandeur was and is.

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