Silent, but deadly… Economics 101

So now that we’ve shed light on the bottled water crisis at Tufts, I’d like to address yet another important externality on campus. This one literally smacks me in the nostrils every time I exercise at the Tufts gym…anonymous flatulence. I don’t want to point a finger, but since I’m the only person over 25 working out at this gym, I’m going to suggest this nasty lapse in etiquette is specific to Millennials. So it is to you, my stinky Millennials (you know who you are), that I share my Economics 101 lesson of the day.

How can we possibly connect gym wind to economics? Simple…it’s clearly a negative externality, in that your stink invades my personal space and you fail to account for the external costs of your actions when you light the area on fire. Those of us hard at work on the treadmill or elliptical can’t move to avoid you, and we can’t stop breathing for the 30 seconds needed for your externality to pass. Gym wind also has aspects of a certain market failure we refer to in economics as ‘moral hazard’. This is when someone does something bad or risky because they know they can never be held accountable for their actions. In terms of gym wind, the anonymity affords the culprit a level of protection from public disapproval. If we could somehow force these anonymous wind breakers to reveal themselves, we could conceivably charge them a gas tax. The gas tax would deter wind breaking to a socially optimal level by forcing them internalize their behavior, i.e. fart less. But unfortunately for those of us that suffer through your air pollution, it is impossible to identify you in a packed gym, hence this market failure remains intractable.

That leaves us with only one plausible solution…a public education campaign. In this aspect, Tufts could go a long way towards teaching our next generation leaders to be stewards of their environment. For example, Tufts could devote a series during orientation to proper gym etiquette. This campaign will also require a continual stream of friendly reminders throughout the year with optimally placed signage at the gym, lest our Millennials forget their manners. ‘Be a friend, stop gym wind!’, ‘Be hip, don’t let it rip!’ Pass it along my friends, figuratively and not literally, so that we can all enjoy our externality free public spaces!

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