2007-12-12

WC Socialism

Anyone who has ever traveled to Amsterdam or a developing country can appreciate a clean city and good sanitation when suddenly it is no longer there. In Amsterdam, and to a lesser extent the rest of Holland, bathroom usage comes at a price varying by establishment. The result of this price means that a large percentage of inhabitants use the city itself as their toilet rather than the costly facilities all around. In Amsterdam, the practice is so widespread that the city wreaks of urine and public outdoor urinals without proper drainage are placed through the city as a patch on a problem seen as impossible to enforce. The United States and many other developed countries by contrast mandate that most establishments which serve food and all gas stations provide free facilities which meet some minimum health standards though results vary. As a result, most places in those countries do not smell of human waste. Sensible Switzerland, on balance the best run country on Earth, provides very clean, well designed, and low-maintenance public toilets complete with drug paraphernalia disposal facilities in many public parks.

Bathroom regulation is a good example of how a minimal and passive government standards on quality and service provision can create tremendous welfare benefits for society as a whole as widespread negative externalities are cheaply eliminated. In general, I prefer a society in which government governs as little as possible and only when the welfare benefits far outweigh the costs to the affected members of society. Though it is vague to say it, freedom itself should be valued at a high price in social welfare calculations in evaluating the merits of a potential new tax, public work project, or regulation. Negative externalities can however quickly outweigh even very high freedom opportunity costs in justifying regulation. There is unquestionably some role for government to grease the wheels of society and preserve social order and wellbeing. After visiting Amsterdam, I did become a bathroom socialist.

2 comments:

tim said...

In Prague toilets were few and far between. You can imagine that this could be somewhat problematic considering that the Czechs drink the most beer per capita in the world! Unlike the municipal troops in the US, the Czech police never harassed anyone for answering nature's call.

On the other hand, the public transit system was the best I've ever used anywhere- a vestige of the socialist government.

There are always trade offs in any system.

Pace said...

I agree on the point about trade offs. Such is the nature of scarcity. Personal preferences inevitable shape any "social optimal" allocation. However the issue of the bathrooms to me is very clear for any halfway developed society. When you live if the country as I used to do, then of course it is even enjoyable to commune with nature. No harm, no foul.