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At an unnamed small-research university located in the Great Lakes area:

photo 3

photo 1

photo 2

Not that I would have any direct knowledge, but I am told that this happens at least every two weeks over the course of the year. Good luck solving global warming, world poverty, infrastructure planning, etc.

4 Responses to “What’s Wrong With the World, a Continuing Series”

  1. Speedmaster says:

    LOL! I know that scenario well! :)

  2. Alex says:

    I never really understood this point. It seems like you’re saying:

    “if we can’t solve this simple problem (of individual responsibility), how can we solve these other much more difficult problems (of collective responsibility)?”

    But few resources are being directed toward solving the simple coffee pot, or porta-potty, or leaving-grocery-items-where-they-don’t-belong problems. On the other hand, lots of resources are being put toward solving global warming, poverty, etc. Obviously it should cost less to deal with the simpler problems, but nobody is really working on them. So it seems this wouldn’t, by itself, imply that the harder problems are unsolvable. After all, harder (collective and individual action) problems have been solved.

  3. Brian says:

    Alex I would say the point he is trying to make is one of individual rationality trumping what is advantageous for the group (including said individual). In the same way that one cannot be bothered to clean the coffee pot or turn off the machine even though the group would be better off if they did, people cannot be bothered to do their part to fight global warming even though it might kill us all one day.

  4. wintercow20 says:

    Re: Alex
    It speaks to a set of larger issues, and I apologize if my terseness seems trite. I really do need to stop writing.

    The larger issues I am referring to speak directly to your point.

    First however, the logical fallacy in your last sentence is dangerous. “Harder problems have been solved.” It doesn’t imply much of anything. Harder problems have persisted. And harder problems have been solved. And easier problems have persisted. And easier problems have been solved. WHICH harder problems have been solved and why might be more fruitful.

    For an analogy, what if I took a small snapshot of a completely private conservation area that I just visited. And with it I made the comment that we don’t need to worry about collective conservation issues?

    In any case, among the points I’d like to make above given my coffee pot and other images, are that:

    (1) Even the wealthiest, most well-educated people and places “suffer” from these seemingly simple problems.

    (2) I’m tired of the sanctimony among the elite class that they somehow do better than others (perhaps I am guilty of it). But at places like a University, where the walls are oozing with sanctimony, walk into any destroyed bathroom, any littered area after a party, any burnt coffee-pot, etc. it is incredibly difficult to take any folks’ proscriptions for social ills seriously when they don’t have the decency to take care of the place.

    (3) I think the picture above has EVERYTHING to do with solving infrastructure problems, global warming problems and the like. The key insight in the last 40 years in the social sciences, one that I think was beginning to be appreciated in the 18th century, is that these collective action problems are not going to be solved without better cultural and other institutional features in place. If people don’t have a natural tendency to respect “easy” collective items like coffee pots and parks in rich places, where is the impetus going to come from the respect harder ones, and to do them right PARTICULARLY when special interests are ready to pounce at any weakness in collective efforts to do the right things. We don’t just implement collective policies, they need to be enforced, updated, monitored, revisited, and so on. We don’t just pass a decent piece of legislation on some day and forget it. An entire culture of responsibility is required to get the big problems solved. The evil in the world is due to opportunism, in my view. What do folks do when no one is watching? The answer to that question will dictate how successful we are at making progress.

    The other point in these pictures is quite the opposite point you are making. It’s a SIMPLE economic lesson of WHY we have social problems in the first place. It’s just an illustration of an externality, and my point, which I thought was pretty obvious from the simplicity of the pictures, is that externalities are everywhere, they come from everywhere, and that the larger problems in the world are caused, typically, by these sorts of behaviors. If these behaviors are prevalent when the “opportunism” is limited like being bothered to turn off a coffee pot, how difficult might it be to convince a property owner to keep a million dollar stand of trees from being felled? Or even larger changes in lifestyle, even under strict legislation and regulation?

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