Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ikea Effect and Locke's Theory of Property

Eric Johnson has a great post over at Prawfsblawg on John Locke and IKEA:

I'm reading Predictably Irrational a behavioral economics popularization by Dan Ariely. I was struck by how much Ariely's exposition of irrational human attitudes toward ownership tracks John Locke's theoretical justification for private ownership of property. Ariely writes:

[T]he more work you put into something, the more ownership you begin to feel for it. Think about the last time you assembled some furniture. Figuring out which piece goes where and which screw fits into which hole boosts the feeling of ownership. ... I can say with a fair amount of certainty that pride of ownership is inversely proportionally to the ease with which one assembles the furniture ...
(Predictably Irrational, p. 175)

Ariely calls this the "Ikea effect." For me, living with a bunch of furniture I got from Ikea about 10 years ago, I would say the Ikea effect is that the more time I wasted assembling the furniture back then, the greater is my present-day desire to destroy it with an aluminum baseball bat.

If Ariely/Locke is correct, why do I also have such mixed feelings about my IKEA furniture?  Is Ariely just wrong?  Is it because I know IKEA stuff is cheap and the self-assembly reminds me of that? 

I think it's that the dollars that I spent on my enormous recliner (I'm talking two cup-holder big!) are actually a better representation of my "labor" than the horrible hour spent putting together my latest Hoovelstrum.  I feel more invested in my fancy furniture because I know how many hours I had to work to be able to afford it.  


Steve Clowney

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