Karen the Collective Action Problem


I’m a little ‏up in the air about what this means, in an economic sense. Ultimately, I suppose it’s just another illustration of a collective action problem.

When you do a survey, lots of people will say “Yes, I would like to give $2 to prevent this beautiful waterfall from being strip-mined.” You get the same results if you ask if people want to spend $.50 a year to prevent pandas from going extinct (despite the pandas’ best efforts), or $8 to bring 100 people in Africa out of poverty, or whatever. But when you ask people to put their money on the table, they vote for lower taxes and lower levels of public goods like protected waterfalls & living pandas.

This scenario isn’t entirely parallel to that–after all, some people are stepping up and offering money to this bus monitor. But the campaign doesn’t acknowledge the fact that there are about 60,000 elementary schools in the US, many of which have bus monitors, many of whose lives are identically shitty. It doesn’t make any effort to push for better treatment or compensation for equally deserving people who happen to be less salient (because they haven’t had a Youtube video posted of their torments). Maybe in the end, this is just a post noting that people respond to what’s salient rather than what’s important–I’m not entirely sure . Would be interested in your thoughts.


About Joe Colucci

From Michigan, now in Boston via DC and NYC. BA in Economics from NYU. A geek and a nerd, of the type that thinks there's a meaningful difference between the two. Avid fan of good TV, good argument, good beer, good food. I work at the Lown Institute on reforming the health care delivery system, and I blog on anything else that strikes my fancy at wonkinakilt.wordpress.com. Obviously, anything that I post on Twitter or Wordpress is my own rambling, and is not endorsed by any employee, colleague, or acquaintance, past, present, or future. View all posts by Joe Colucci

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