In their book Freakonomics, the authors relate a study that looked into charging parents a fine for turning up late to pick up their children.

Some economists ran a study at a number of day-care centers, first by keeping track of the number of late pickups for a ten week period before the fine was introduced and then again afterwards.

The results? The number of late pickups increased after the fine was introduced.

The authors claim (which seems reasonable to me) is that the moral incentive for picking up the children on time (“the poor teachers will have to stay late”) was replaced by an economic incentive (“I'm effectively paying for baby-sitting”).

It's easy to replace a moral issue with an economic one if the price is right.

Maybe the fine was too low, but making it too high could be punishing to any goodwill garnered by the day-care center.

“I was stuck in traffic, sorry for being five minutes late.”

“Sorry Mr. Dad, but that'll be $100.”

Why do I bring this up now? Well, in this week's email missive from Julian's day-care center, they informed us that from March 1st they'll be introducing fines for late pickups.

It's not enough that the day-care center treats the parents like children, but now they're making a potentially bad goodwill mistake.

They don't even say how much the fine will be. How's that for being customer focused?

I'm of two minds whether to send them a copy of the Freakanomics section. It might be interesting to see whether they treat it as a cautionary tale or as an affront to their day-care managing expertise.

More to the point, if I asked them, would they collect and pass on the data about the change in late pickup numbers as a Freakonomics experiment?