Category Archive 'Public Goods'

29 Nov 2013

The Office Refrigerator as Metaphor

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King Prawn, at Ricochet, identifies by metaphor the key distinguishing characteristics of The Public Good.

Whether you work in an office, a shop, or a store, you’ve had this experience. Every break room, lunch room, and food mess has one: the community fridge. The chair I occupied in the lunch room today was right next to one of these things, and every time the door was opened I was reminded of what a perfect metaphor it is for any contrived public good. Let’s review a few of the similarities:

    Everyone uses it whether they like it or not

    No one takes responsibility for its upkeep

    Everyone claims a disproportionate amount of the good

    Individuality and property rights disappear within it (I ate a sandwich named Steve…)

    Unwanted personal items are often abandoned here

    Over time, the condition deteriorates to a completely unsanitary state

    Everyone complains about the conditions

    Everyone expects someone else to deal with the problem

    Eventually those who use it the least end up cleaning the thing out

    The smell never completely goes away

In over 20 years of gainful employment, I’ve never seen a common work refrigerator that did not fit this description perfectly. Every experience I have had with a contrived public good has been exactly the same — be it public transportation, public restrooms, or public recreational facilities. We can now expect the same in our healthcare.


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