Halloween is here, the night every year when children dress up in costumes and go “trick or treating.”

On the surface, that activity appears to be a relatively benign one. What could be more innocent than cute youngsters collecting sweets?

Halloween, however, is actually one of our only holidays based on extortion. When children scream “trick or treat,” they are essentially demanding candy in exchange for not doing a prank or something else that is nasty.

Some children on Halloween are learning how to ask strangers for candy. Learning to interact politely with strangers is a valuable lesson. Other costumed kids, however, are figuring out how to shake down people for sweets and that threats of mischief are sometimes effective ways to get what you want.

Is there a better way than extorting people with tricks to get more treats?

A number of years ago when my children were young, I ran a simple, economic experiment to find out. We wanted to discover a way to maximize the amount of candy they could collect without threatening adults.