Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I've been listening to SuperFreakonomics on CD and the theme of the book has been incentives and how they change human behavior. In illustrating incentive-related behavior, the authors talked for a while about trash and how some cities are charging based on the amount of trash you produce. Rather than lead to less trash, the incentive leads to more highly compressed trash (I think they called it The Seattle Smash), trash in the woods, illegal burning, and invariably people on fire from illegal burning.

This reminded me of a rule we have with our renters. We pay for garbage disposal. Many times someone who is trying to rent has said to me, "I notice you pay for garbage. Can you just adjust the rent down $50 and we'll find our own garbage disposal service." Invariably I say, "Absolutely not." They argue. They tell me they always use such and such a service. They tell me about their brother who owns a service and they can't rent unless they can use his service. They tell me they can save me and them money by rotating services or hauling the trash themselves.

But my brother and I have that rule for one simple reason. We don't want trash in the basement and the garage. If you let renters pay for their own trash, it's the first thing they'll decide to stop paying. Not the cell phones. Not cable tv or DISH. Not high speed internet. Trash. And it will end up in some part of your house, or in a pile in the corner of the yard under a tarp. Because all those other things exhibit personal gain, and trash is just an inconvenience. So we remove the incentive/disincentive aspect.

We apply the same rule to water because we live in Minnesota. Our pipes are not an incentive trade off option. At least not in the winter.


Sank said...

Very strategic of you my friend. You're dead on on the trash thing.

Never ceased to amaze me on my trips to rural Kentucky years ago.. folks would dump their trash in the woods, along roads.. awful mess.. to the point that the county offered free waste dump.. still couldn't get everyone to use it.

Scooter said...

When you're geocaching in the area, it's sort of a surprise to find all the dumped trash all over the place, including in the parks. Most of it looks older, so I always hope it's something that's ceased to happen. There are even caches with junkyard in their name.