Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dumping, Externalities, and Creeping Around

If you have followed the news you know that southwest Florida's beaches are a mess due to pumping water from the  Lake Okeechobee. It's a pretty good example of an externality. Another one is more personal to me. Several years ago Nautilus  or one of the other fitness machine makers had a weight lifting contraption. I am not sure it was Nautilus since they were responsible for the torturous cross country ski  machine that made water boarding look inviting by comparison.

Ok, back the to machine. I said I would like one to someone and she said I could have hers. She would just give it to me. Of course, knowing that you should always look a gift horse in the mouth but ignoring that, I arrived to pick up the machine and it was obvious that she was referring to something completely different. I took it, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, and it sat around my house for several months until my  wife said "it's me or the machine."

But what could I do with the machine? In the middle of the night I hauled it over to the Law School in put it in the middle of a common area. It's was kind of an experiment to see what would happen. It stayed there for months. Sometimes students would use it. No one asked "Did someone lose an outdated weight lifting machine. "No one took it to lost and found. Some thought it was sculpture. And then it disappeared.

[To show that I was also interested in positive externalities, I'd like to mention that I used to take all the foam cups from the lounge and hide them in hopes that coffee and tea drinkers would get discouraged and bring ceramic cups. It did not work. The more I took, the more that appeared -- I mean thousands -- until an new environmentally-minded associate dean starting supplying paper cups.]

In any case, I left my trash (the machine) at the Law School and the externality was that someone else had to figure out what to do. What does this have to do with anything? Did you notice I did it in the middle of the night so no one would know.

That's the best time to handle dumping. On faculties secret dumping takes the form of side deals.  Each person slithers down to the dean's office and explains why he or she is special and should get a special deal -- a very long leave, reduced teaching, more money for teaching a course, extra travel money, etc. And when they get the special deal someone else has to clean it up by teaching more students, teaching courses that the students need but the dumpers have bargained their way out of, or by hiring visitors when the money might have been used for improving the classrooms or library.

The externality thing also occurs in a more pernicious way. Suppose the dean tells you that it makes no sense to pay you 40K or more to teach a handful of students in the summer or to pay you 20K in the summer to pimp out some students.  At this point you begin to slink from office to office looking for other people who are as self-interested as you are and you do not have to look very far. In fact, even people who betrayed you or are not speaking to you become potential allies.   You approach others and get them on board by expressing it like this "I am not sure I agree with the Dean deciding to change the law school so YOU are worse off."  Yes, you are only looking out for others or for, "academic freedom." Sorry I just threw up when I imagined something protecting their turf with that appeal.

Perhaps I should mention that we are all people who claim our lives are devoted to high minded things like teaching and research -- you remember that, right? If that is what you want to do then the mob and its impact is a huge externality. It makes the environment unhealthy. It means picking up sides. I means far more effort than usual to filter out the truth from the lies and exaggerations. It can mean more meeting and gossip that is unrelated to teaching and research.

So, what is the message here. I would think it is clear: Faculties, do not become Lake Okeechobee or an outdated 300 pound weight machine.

All my love, Jake

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