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On Economists:

Harvey Mansfield, writing in this month's New Criterion:

The building where I used to work was shared with economists, who, living the sort of life they describe, had no incentive to flush and sometimes failed to do so.

Caliban Darklock (www):
I have noticed something unusual in this vein myself.

Specifically, I have noticed that many of my colleagues at work fail to flush, but still wash their hands.

This strikes me as being somehow hypocritical.
9.20.2006 6:39pm
Hugo:
After reading "Manliness", Manfield needs to flush some of the ideas in his head.
9.20.2006 6:40pm
JohnAnnArbor:
Hmmm. Perhaps they did flush, but the new "low-flow" toilets failed to -- ahem -- complete the job.
9.20.2006 8:32pm
SeaLawyer:
I guess if it is yellow let mellow.
9.20.2006 8:59pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Economists have a horrible habit of being overweight, understyled, bald and boring. It isn't shocking to learn that smelly and untrained can be added to the list.

Mind you, most of my family are economists, so this is all said with love.
9.20.2006 9:16pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Mind you, liberty is an economist too, and is (as far as I'm aware) none of the above.
9.20.2006 9:26pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Aw, that's very sweet Sasha... but give me time, I'm young yet!
9.20.2006 10:14pm
Truth Seeker:
What is that rhyme the eco-minded teach their children?

We respect the Earth and sun
And never flush just number one
9.20.2006 10:55pm
Redman:
I share a floor with architects who dont flush either. I put up this sign above the urinals:
IF YOU FLUSH AT HOME, FLUSH HERE.
9.20.2006 11:26pm
Redman:
I share a floor with architects who dont flush either. I put up this sign above the urinals:
IF YOU FLUSH AT HOME, FLUSH HERE.
9.20.2006 11:26pm
Tony2 (mail):
They SOMETIMES failed to flush? My faith in Homo Economicus has been shattered. A rational economist would NEVER flush.
9.21.2006 12:13am
JohnAnnArbor:

And never flush just number one

Feel free to stink up your own house, not a public bathroom.

Install waterless urinals if you want to feel better.
9.21.2006 12:34am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
IF YOU FLUSH AT HOME, FLUSH HERE.

Hmmm -- my children tell me that the reason they keep failing to flush at home is that there are automatic toilets at school, and they've gotten out of the habit. (It's true there are automatic toilets at the school, else I would have suspected that had it come up at school they would have told those who monitor this that the reason they forget is that they have automatic toilets at home. Or that they have rationally realized that if they don't flush, their parents will do it for them -- maybe they have a future as economists.)
9.21.2006 12:37am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
IF YOU FLUSH AT HOME, FLUSH HERE.

Hmmm -- my children tell me that the reason they keep failing to flush at home is that there are automatic toilets at school, and they've gotten out of the habit. (It's true there are automatic toilets at the school, else I would have suspected that had it come up at school they would have told those who monitor this that the reason they forget is that they have automatic toilets at home. Or that they have rationally realized that if they don't flush, their parents will do it for them -- maybe they have a future as economists.)
9.21.2006 12:37am
homais:
Who knew the tragedy of the commons would smell so bad?
9.21.2006 1:04am
Mark H.:

IF YOU FLUSH AT HOME, FLUSH HERE.



That seems an unintentionally risky ultimatum, Redman!
9.21.2006 1:04am
Econo Mix (mail):
It isn't obvious to me that, as an economist, there is no incentive to flush.

1. Externalities: an economist still may internalize the costs of this action if he walks out of the bathroom and is found out by a coworker. I assume economists are not homogeneous goods and that there are some who are annoyed by the habit. Furthermore, I am sure that, no matter where this is, more humans than economists enter the lavoratories. Indeed, even economists should discount the probability that they might be be called "Johnny NoFlush" or "Assy McAsparagupiss" the rest of their lives.

2. Efficiency: Is it really inefficient to flush (low flow or not)? The allocation of natural resources may not be maximized (as opposed to, say, optimized), but, I don't think it's plausible to suggest that stale urine presents any sort of Pareto-Improving result. I find it hard to believe that, in satisfying a deeply held belief in the ridiculousness of flushing, nobody is made worse off at the expense of the economist's allocation of his resources.

Likewise, and while conceding that it might possible that stale urine saturating a toilet bowl whose molecules'are now diffusion throughout the room, and, should the inevitable occur, into the olfactory passages of fellow humans could be Kaldor-Hicks efficient (and well, you'd have to be the weirdest of the subset of weird humans we call economists), I suggest that the gainers gain less than the losers lose....... And of course, all economists are losers (just kidding, one of my majors).

But, then again, what are you gonna do, measure the janitor's and my own utils? Sheeeeesh.... Sytlized fact number 1: you're disgusting. Stylized fact number 2: how about you flush next time or I dip your pencils into toilet bowls in the future, eh, Assy McAsparagapiss?
9.21.2006 3:09am
RDS (mail):

Ronald Coase coralary:
Are property rights involved here, and was this a government building?
In loo (sic)(sick) of governmenent regulation such as sign work or auto-flush toilettes, Coase Theorem would hold the price mechanism would solve this situation most simply.
To correct any externality, were Ronald Coase alive and working in the same building, would he have privately bargained a price with the non-flushers that incentivized flushing?
9.21.2006 5:50am
Federal Dog:
Truth Seeker--


Back in my California drought days, it was: "If it's yellow, leave it for the next fellow. If it's brown, flush it down."

I'm just saying, is all.
9.21.2006 7:27am
liberty (mail) (www):
"If its yellow, let it mellow" was the NY hippie version.

Coase aside, I think calling them names would work better than paying them, in this case. If you pay them, they will inevitably bargain for a higher price and default on their end of the bargain so that you are reminded of why you are willing to pay them.

You would be paying for something that social norms should make the norm, thereby providing hidden incentive for some to create a subset of norm-breakers in order to extend the payments to those who follow the norm. Increasing the punishment to norm-breakers should achieve a better result.
9.21.2006 8:45am
Lively:
Looks like economists have something in common with the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston:


TRUE to his word, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has revealed that for the past 15 months nobody in his house has flushed the toilet after urinating.


Guess he doesn't entertain at home much.
9.21.2006 9:59am
Kierkegaard (mail):
Lets just hope that toilet paper is used and the invisible hand stays clean.
9.21.2006 10:14am
CEB:
I think the reason don't flush is that they are so neurotic about germs that they don't want to touch the handle. I've seen my fellow law students not flush, then go to the paper towel dispenser and crank out a length of towel, wash their hands, leave the water running because they don't want to touch the handle, then grab the towel, dry their hands, use the towel to open the door so they won't touch the door, then throw the towel on the floor. So their trip to the bathroom results in a urinal full of urine, a running tap, and a paper towel on the floor. Losers.
9.21.2006 10:16am
Thales (mail) (www):
I think Coase is still alive. Also, I thought economists just assumed away stinky bathrooms along with transaction costs.
9.21.2006 12:33pm
Redman:
Paul H

IF YOU FLUSH AT HOME, FLUSH HERE.
That seems an unintentionally risky ultimatum, Redman!


Believe me, I would not have posted the sign but for the fact that they are all married men.
9.21.2006 1:31pm
A.C.:
Regarding obnoxious germophobes... the worst of the worst are the ones who put paper on the toilet seat so they won't come in contact with it and then LEAVE IT THERE for the next person to deal with.

(You know who you are, and the rest of us are gunning for you.)
9.21.2006 1:46pm
Dean Moriarty (mail):
Doesn't flushing just waste water, and thus not flushing becomes an environmentally-friendly activity?
9.22.2006 11:37am
eddie (mail):
Furthermore, I am sure that, no matter where this is, more humans than economists enter the lavoratories.

I'm sure there are some places where the economists outnumber the humans.
9.22.2006 2:56pm
Noumenon (mail):
I just need to warn anyone who's been following the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" rule that if you live on your own and do this, your toilet surface will react with your urine crystals and turn blue. I don't know if it's possible to get it clean -- what I did get clean gets dirty a lot faster than it should now.
9.25.2006 8:14pm
Anonymous Economist:
Mansfield was referring to when the Harvard government department shared a building with Harvard economics department. This then leads one to the obvious speculation that the non-flushing economist must have been Marty Weitzman (otherwise known as the manure stealing Harvard professor) who clearly thought that by leaving one deposit he could justify taking another.
9.26.2006 12:37pm