New Protocol for Offering and Asking for Favors

Bethany and I have adopted a new protocol for offering and asking for
favors. For example, Bethany forgot her wallet at home the other day so
was stuck at school without means to procure food.


Here’s the old way:

  • D: Forgot your wallet? I can skate uptown and bring you some cash!
  • B: That’s ok, you’re busy, and I’ll go home after class anyway.
  • D: I don’t mind, I need a break anyway.
  • B: But I really don’t need it that bad.
  • etc. We’re stuck in “want” vs “really want” land.

New way:

  • D: Being so magnanimous, I’ll *share* the task of bringing you cash!
  • B: That’s sweet! I’ll place a bid on ‘bwallet’ at
  • B enters, for example, ‘ybid bwallet -12’. (The default Decision Auction is used.)
  • Now either it would cost me more than that (e.g., I enter
    ybid bwallet -16) and I’m off the hook but give Bethany yootles, or it
    would cost me less and I do the favor but get paid yootles.

It seems strange to give Bethany yootles because she forgot her wallet but
it’s by construction less skin off my nose than schlepping uptown for her.
The favor is to make it half my responsibility so once that’s been
established it’s only fair that whoever gets out of it gives some yootles
to the person who actually does it.

That’s the beauty of this protocol. I can offer to help and have it be a
Genuinely Generous Gesture, even if it doesn’t make sense (is not socially
optimal) for me to actually deliver on the favor.


If you’re asking for a favor you say “let’s have an auction to see if it
would be socially efficient for you to do X for me.” For example, I asked
Bethany if she’d mind (less than me) rotating my skate wheels. It was
no skin off her nose to bid in the auction — just bid truthfully and the
auction will only make her do it if she gets enough yootles to *want*
to do it (she didn’t). This is done with a Favor Auction (go to or text ‘ymech fav’ to 4INFO (44636) to learn
how to use it).

In a Favor Auction, the default is that the favor does not happen and no payments are made, but if it’s socially optimal to do the favor then the favor seeker(s) pay the favor provider(s) to do it.
That’s in contrast to a Decision Auction where it’s assumed up front that a task has to get done. Everyone takes equal responsibility and it’s just a matter of deciding who does it.


2 Responses to “New Protocol for Offering and Asking for Favors”

  1. Bee Says:

    I think that the auction for taking the cat to the vet is a little bit clearer exposition of this favor system.

  2. dreeves Says:

    That one was very similar in spirit. Instead of “I can take your cat to the vet since you have homework due” it was “I’ll share the job of taking the cat to the vet.” We then had a Decision Auction to decide who would actually do it. I lost, meaning I had to take the cat, but got paid yootles for it.

    The beauty of this protocol is that, sure, it’s nice of me to want to help when Bethany’s cat gets sick right before a deadline, but I shouldn’t presume to know how busy she is. Let the “invisible hand” decide who truly minds least. And as a bonus, it compensates the person who gets stuck with the job, giving them capital to use next time they need a favor in return.

    This is exactly what people try to approximate by trying to alternate favors and feeling each other out. The reason to use yootles instead is simple: it does a better job. That translates quite literally into greater happiness.

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