I'm sitting at a midtown Manhattan Starbucks waiting for a friend of mine who actually works. Below, I supply a photo of some urban garbage that I found close to the Hilton Hotel on 53rd and 6th.
This image nudged me back to my work on "green cities" and density. As you know, in several past papers I have extolled the green benefits of density. But, this photo highlights that if NYC wasn't rich -- this densely populated place could be a real mess. I ran into this today as I walked through midtown. Too many smoking people packed into too little space. Maybe the makers of that 1960s sitcom Greenacres were correct?
But, $ can solve several problems. This garbage must have been placed there with the intent of some well paid public sector worker picking it up and taking it somewhere. NYC uses $ to create a moat between its waste and its consumption. In many LDC cities, residents can't afford to do this.
As I lecture on "green cities", I interact with ecologists who argue that rich cities "artificially" green themselves by being able to export their trash. If you had to sit in a dirty diaper all day, you might poop less! I believe that this is their logic.
As an economist who believes in free trade, I would point out that NYC has to pay for trash removal but I certainly agree that less trash would be produced if producers paid per bag versus facing a zero marginal cost incentive.
This topic popped up in a lecture I gave to my UCLA freshmen last week. I was facetiously arguing that they use too much toliet paper in the dorms because they face a zero marginal cost per sheet. I argued that a little person should sit there in the stall and sell the sheets for a positive price. My brilliant freshmen looked puzzled and slightly disturbed. I told them that this logic would appear on their final and they should go think about it.