Communal stream pollution
This paper on “More Sex Is Safer Sex – The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics,” a book written by Steven E. Landsburg, highlights the author’s reference that we all share a “communal stream,” we all pollute that communal stream, and therefore we all share the responsibility to respect and protect that communal stream. Sometimes unknowingly and sometimes intentionally, we ignore this responsibility and it’s not long before any pattern of this behavior is met with much resistance, even hostility. Steven E. Landsburg suggests that where regulation is concerned, in order to know how much moderation is necessary, it’s important that we feel all the costs and all the benefits of our choices, in getting this quantity right. Even then, he admits that it’s difficult to know where ‘to draw the line’ and to keep in mind that even the lines intended to make the ‘stream run clearer,’ in excess can themselves become pollutant. With that said, let us ‘dive in’ anyway.
Economizing our behavior may be considered in an example as simple as choosing to yell across the room or walking over and having a ‘normal’ conversation. In the imposing of the label ‘normal,’ we attempt to punish violators (with embarrassment) for their crime of ‘polluting the communal stream,’ in this case, a quiet and peaceful environment. Our desire to adhere to these ‘common courtesies’ depends on any number of factors. Our cost benefit analysis weighs our interests in categories ranging from our resources to our morality, with government regulations left to bridge the gaps which separate such differences. In the absence of a satisfactory resolution to disputes, such mediation is often necessary.
Maintaining with the analogy of ‘communal streams’ being polluted, this book offers no shortage of possible resolutions to common day ‘leaks in the system.’ But conventional wisdom will tells us that no plumber can stop you from damaging that system in the first place and so your decision to do so must be motivated by incentives, whether they appeal to you physically and tangibly or are intangible rewards, of the spirit or ego.
Still, the author makes a valiant effort to cover as many possible examples where physical means apply. As his guideline he uses the rule of thumb that the decision maker, in theory, should feel all the effects of both the costs and the benefits of his actions. The ideal goal, on the tangible frontier, is to have better informed voters who are better motivated. They are better motivated when the incentives are right, which happens when voters feel all the effects of the costs and of the benefits of their choices.
That looks good on paper, but in real time these affects often ‘spillover’ to third parties. Economics tells us that feeling only the benefits, we will overindulge and feeling only the costs, we will under indulge. More often than not however, ‘perpetrators’ reap the benefits without fully accounting for the costs. ...