Friday, May 2, 2014
We are all, of course, responsible pet owners. We always clean after our pets, regardless of whether someone is likely to judge us. Despite that, consider (other) people who are affected by social norms while deciding whether to clean after their pets. If one sees a lot of dog poop laying around in the park, then he may believe that not cleaning after his pet is acceptable behavior. If so, a type of ‘herding effect’ (I am using this phrase loosely) may be observed. Suppose at t=0 the norm is that one ought to clean after his pet. An irresponsible person, who also cares very little about norms, may decide not to clean after his pet (whose name is Fluffy). At t=1 people who encounter the mess left by Fluffy and who care some, but only a little, about norms, may decide not to clean after their pets either. At t=2, people may start believing that it is the norm to not clean after their pets, and only those people who, like us, clean after their pets regardless of existing norms, may continue to clean after their pets. Thus, we started with a society where the norm is to clean after pets and where parks are clean, and ended up with a society where parks are disgusting and the norm is to not clean after pets. How can this transformation be avoided? Perhaps resources can be allocated at t=0 towards hiring professional cleaners to clean after irresponsible pet owners. (Another option is, of course, fining and hoping such fines deter) When should resources be expended towards hiring professional cleaners? When the cost of doing so is smaller than the expected cost associated with the transformation.
One can replace the act of not cleaning after one’s pet with petty theft (or any other crime) to ask and answer the following questions. Might it be a good idea to conceal information regarding the prevalence of the commission of various crimes? What are the costs of concealing such information? May transparency be a bad thing in this setting? Within the economics of law enforcement literature, what does this observation imply regarding the optimal punishment of manifest v. non-manifest crimes?