Lawnmowers and $40 nachos

For the same reason that everyone asks for their own check at the restaurant.

That’s my answer to Atrios’ recent question, “Why Does Everybody Own Their Own Lawnmower?

I know there is a fairly obvious answer to this question. There’s a cost of organizing and coordination. But, yet, in the aggregate an immense amount of money is likely wasted because of this coordination failure. Surely there could be just one lawnmower for every 10 households (I just made that number up of course), there could be a modest hourly rental fee, with a weekend premium, and an online reservation system.

But, OK, yes, there is a genuine cost to organizing such a system, and maybe lawnmowers don’t cost all that much. Still in my time in the burbs I don’t remember anyone ever simply suggesting sharing a lawnmower between two neighboring households, a rather simple arrangement.

It ought to be a rather simple arrangement, and the idea does make an enormous amount of sense — particularly now when household budgets are strained by a combination of flat wages and increasing expenses. (I don’t mean inflation — I mean the new fixed costs due to technological change: cable, Internet, wireless, ID-theft protection rackets, etc.)

A situation in which everybody has to have their own everything is going to be far more expensive for all concerned than a situation in which at least some things can be shared. And lawnmowers — a necessary item used regularly but not constantly — seem like a reasonable candidate for sharing. (My own household doesn’t have any formal arrangement, but we share the mowing, if not the mower, with the good folks next door.)

Duncan actually describes two different sorts of arrangements. The first — with rental fees and reservations — sounds more like a business model for something that could probably work on a small scale. The second “sharing a lawnmower between two neighboring households” is much more informal. But in either case, such arrangements require either a substantial healthy relationship — a neighborly friend-ship — or its contractual equivalent, with documents, rules and some enforcement mechanism.

In either case, for this arrangement to be more help than hassle, all parties would need to exhibit some altruistic virtues that are not always easily cultivated in the same suburban soils in which America’s largest crop — lawn grass — is often grown. Sharing, whether out of neighborliness or by contract, requires all sides to be magnanimous, generous and deferential. Or, in other words, the arrangement would only be worth the potential savings if nobody was a jerk — if nobody was the sort of advantage-seeking jackwagon who never refills the gas can or who tries to get others to pay more than a fair share of maintenance costs.

If people insist on being jerks, then sharing can’t work. And we’re swimming upstream here, because sharing, by its very nature, tends to reward jerks who try to exploit the system. (That may be part of why Ananias and Sapphira were punished so harshly in the earliest Christian community, in which “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”)

You’ve experienced this. More than once. You’re at a restaurant with a large party of friends or co-workers or castmembers or — riskiest of all — people from church, and everybody is on one tab. The bill gets passed around the table and the money gets piled up in the middle and you wind up $20 short — not to mention the tip. “Who didn’t put in?” No one says anything. Everyone insists they paid more than enough for their share, with plenty of extra for the tip, but you’re $20 short, so somebody is lying. More than one somebody, probably. But since no one fesses up, you end up tossing in way more than you should have had to and those $5.99 nachos wind up costing you $40.

That’s the sort of experience that makes it seem easier and even cheaper to just buy your own lawnmower.

Or think of a more substantial experience of sharing — the experience of having a roommate. That word likely conjures up a host of connotations and emotional responses based on your past experiences both good and bad. Those good experiences are a reminder that such sharing arrangements can be pleasant, cost-effective and mutually beneficial. But those bad experiences are a reminder that such arrangements can also be a nightmare.

That kind of nightmare — finding oneself bound in an interdependent relationship and/or contract with others who are never magnanimous, generous or deferential, with others who seek to take advantage, who cannot be trusted to pay their share of the bill when your back is turned — is intolerable. The risk of finding oneself in such a situation will, for most people, outweigh the potential benefits of any proposed sharing arrangement.

Everyone having their own everything is a ridiculous and expensive arrangement. But every alternative to it requires either a base-level of virtue and trustworthiness that cannot be reliably expected, or else the contractual regulations that would be needed in lieu of such trustworthiness and virtue, which may well be more burdensome and expensive than the original ridiculous Hobbesian/Randian consumerism.

All of which, I suppose, is just to say that our lives would be a lot cheaper and easier if we were better people.

The interesting question to me is which costs more in the long run — occasionally being taken advantage of by advantage-seeking jackwagons? Or being so vigilant against such exploitation that we all have to have our own everything?

Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And always chip in enough to cover your bill plus a generous tip.

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  • Guest-again

    You know, there is car sharing in Germany – and it seems to work pretty well, in general.

    For a basic overview, there is a link here – http://stattauto-muenchen.de/basic_information_about_carsharing.shtml

    And how it works in practice – http://stattauto-muenchen.de/in_practice.shtml

    Of course, car sharing isn’t quite the same as sharing a lawnmower – the money aspect is quite explicit, as car sharing, in the end, is an economic choice. Which just happens to be aimed at changing how people look at a system which is seemingly devoted to selfishness as a higher common goal.

    Car sharing is not about status as reflected through ownership, it is about transporation being more efficient through distributed use.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Car sharing services exist in the U.S. as well — Zipcar.com

  • Laotsu81

    Guest-again. They’ve got the same basic system in some US cities.

  • Guest-again

    You know, there is car sharing in Germany – and it seems to work pretty well, in general.

    For a basic overview, there is a link here – http://stattauto-muenchen.de/basic_information_about_carsharing.shtml

    And how it works in practice – http://stattauto-muenchen.de/in_practice.shtml

    Of course, car sharing isn’t quite the same as sharing a lawnmower – the money aspect is quite explicit, as car sharing, in the end, is an economic choice. Which just happens to be aimed at changing how people look at a system which is seemingly devoted to selfishness as a higher common goal.

    Car sharing is not about status as reflected through ownership, it is about transporation being more efficient through distributed use.

  • http://profiles.google.com/yamikuronue Bayley G

    One incident restored my faith in humanity considerably – we all chipped in and we were some £40-£50 short on a nearly £200 tab. We went around the table again and again – several people offered to just cover it, but the birthday boy likes to have things orderly and kept insisting we could figure this out.

    Several calculators later, we found out we’d been overcharged. Another table’s drinks had been accidentally added to our tab. When we summoned the waiter, he knew exactly what we meant and said he’d have that taken off, no problem. The new total was about £10 lower than the amount we’d pooled. For once, nobody HAD cheated the system – in fact, had rounded up and were overly generous.

    I guess the moral I’m trying to say is that cooperation is possible… sometimes.

  • t jasper parnell

    I spent last summer cutting a neighbor’s lawn, and will do it this summer; I also spent the past two winters clearing snow from at least to and often four neighbors walks and driveways. Last winter I did this with another neighbor’s snowblower in my garage. We none of us really know one another. What is that they say about wanting, change, and becoming?

  • P J Evans

    People who pay gardeners to do their yardwork probably don’t have lawnmowers. (Some of them might, but I wouldn’t bet on it.)
    The other thing is, if you don’t pay someone else to do it, you’ll probably be doing the lawn-mowing Saturday morning, like all your neighbors.

    (We had a push mower (or, in my parents’ phrase, an Armstrong power mower), except when my parents lived out in the country, where they had a garden tractor with a mower deck, a tiller, and other attachments.)

  • Anonymous

    The other way of handling the lawnmower rental model that Atrios proposes is what I use: hire a gardener. He owns the lawnmower.

  • http://profiles.google.com/scyllacat Priscilla Parkman

    I’m going about just something like this at the moment. I am offering a temporary car sharing to a friend as partial payment. We are working out the exact value of the car versus repairs needed and will draw up a contract on the basis of that. (I drive so little that I can no longer justify spending several hundred dollars on the maintenance, insurance, and fuel for the car, and a well-used and cared-for car that I can borrow seems better than an un-cared-for car that will eventually break down at an inevitably important moment.)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    This is part of why I gave up on Communism. Yes, at one point I considered myself a communist. (Yes, I was also still nominally Christian at the time too – It’s no weirder than a fundamentalist Randroid, right?).

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to learn 3 big truths that changed how I viewed the world.

    1) We’re imperfect. This is something that seems obvious, but doesn’t really necessarily sink in for everyone; and I know it didn’t for me for a long, long, long time. It was always “If only we’d just…” and “It seems so obvious that we could…” – and of course we never do those things even if they make perfect sense.

    Simply put, even if everyone is on the up and up, our imperfections are going to lead us to screwing each other over accidentally; and those same imperfections mean that when such a mistake occurs it can also be difficult to be forgiving. Obviously we aspire to be both generous and forgiving and to avoid making mistakes – but none of those things can be true for a human being 100% of the time.

    2) We’re social animals, but… we are not a hive mind. We need our own space, and our own things.

    To use myself as an example, I sort of have an attachment to my things. My books, my computer, my lawnmower – I’m OK if these things are family owned (and thus still ‘mine’ on some level) – but I am not so OK if it’s yours.

    I guess the best way I could explain it is that it’s ‘my territory’ in the same way an animal typically has a particular range that is ‘theirs’. It’s the same kind of psychological reassurance.

    Plus, with tools, you get familiar with how a particular thing behaves – for instance, I know my hammer has a slightly loose head and the handle is a bit old and so I know not to swing it at full strength because it might break. (Said hammer has sentimental attachment – it used to be my grandpa’s)

    Obviously there are things that are too big for one person to reasonably own. Natural resources, some large scale machinery – those kinds of things can probably be reasonably argued that sharing them makes sense, in spite of jerks and in spite of desire for personal space. But small stuff, like lawnmowers, which aren’t all that expensive… I don’t know that the psychological benefit of having your thing in your hands when you want it is worth giving up just to save money.

    3) Jerks. Fred already explained that bit so I’m not going into it down here.

    —-

    So yeah. Communal ownership, even where it’s functionally logical isn’t necessarily something I feel is desirable anyway. Note that even in spite of all that, it doesn’t change that we need to take care of each other on some level… even the jerks. I just feel it’s healthier for us to have our own space and stuff even if it’s not 100% efficient.

  • chris the cynic

    Yes, at one point I considered myself a communist. (Yes, I was also still nominally Christian at the time too – It’s no weirder than a fundamentalist Randroid, right?).

    I would say significantly less weird. I don’t have time to look up a citation right now, but I’m pretty sure that, if you’re talking about communism as an economic system, the Bible pretty much says that what Christians were. It wasn’t presented as a commandment, or how things should be, or a pie in the sky when you die thing, it was presented as a simple factual statement about how Christians acted at the time.

    Unless I am wildly misremembering, common ownership was presented as the original economic system of Christians and the early Christians were presented as being communist in everything but name.

    My understanding that the final falling out between Christianity and both communism and socialism had to do with twentieth century socialism attaching the ideas to atheism. And that probably only applies to the United States (as an American most of what I know about a given subject is in fact something I know about the US version of that subject) I wouldn’t be surprised if the relationship between communism and/or socalism and Christianity hadn’t suffered as much elsewhere.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    True enough. I guess it’s just so divorced from the type of Christianity I was raised in is why it feels like an odd thing to say.

    I guess also some of it is that because of the way our political culture is, it’s rare to see anyone in an official position say something like “X has some good ideas and some bad ideas, I embrace the good ones and reject the bad ones. ”

    Course that’s lead to some things that really hack me off too – There’s a whole stream of political thought in this country, regardless of political ideology, that just automatically assumes if you are X, then you must agree with Y.

    I’ll stop there because I could write a book (quite literally I feel) on how much I hate that feature of our political discourse, and how often it makes seemingly intelligent people sound like complete idiots by virtue of not allowing for the nuance necessary in a complicated-as-hell world.

    *grumble grumble rant rant* – And the worst part is if I ever wrote such a thing, and it were actually able to get published, it runs the risk of people like David Brooks falling in love with it; because it’s unfortunately a situation where both sides do, indeed, do it to a degree. (That we are, by and large, much better about nuance and much more willing to think about things when challenged would, of course, go completely unnoticed.)

    ARGH. I are having bad day… HULK SMASH BELTWAY MEDIA! HULK SMASH STUPID POLITICS! GAAAAAAAH. ;;;

    I need a nap and some cookies. Preferably the latter first. >.<

  • ako

    The jerk problem seems to be as much psychological as it is practical. Quite often, the cost of the cheaters is not that much, and it’s still cheaper to buy into a system with a small amount of cheating than to pay for everything yourself, but emotionally, the feeling of being ripped off makes it not seem worth it. That mental picture of the smug jerk taking what you’ve put in and laughing at you for being enough of a chump to trust him and play fair hovers in a lot of people’s minds, and it can be far more grating than paying a small amount of extra money. People have a horror of being taken, and even when it’s cheaper to occasionally get ripped off, most people aren’t going to shrug it off and go “Eh, I’m still saving overall.”

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    There is definitely truth in this.

    Betrayal, of any level of trust, is painful and makes it harder to trust in the future. People don’t generally want to be put in a situation where that can be the case where they can avoid it.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Many, but not all. I and a sizeable proportion of my colleagues still pay our union fees, despite the scab majority getting a significant financial benefit out of our doing so. I’d be interested to know what differentiates people in one group from the other.

  • ako

    Yeah, that’s the challenging question. If you could sort out why some people go “The benefits of having a working system are worth the cost of a certain degree of cheating” and other people look at the same situation and go “The worst possible outcome is that some people get away with cheating the rest of us. I don’t care if I have to destroy the whole system to prevent it, I am not going to let that happen!” then you could possibly find a way to change people’s opinions from B to A, and politics would be a lot different.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s not just the people who opt out because they feel that bearing the weight of cheating is not worth it. There’s also the people who don’t contribute to group efforts because they know they’ll reap the benefits anyway.

    In my work example, non-union members benefit from the safety laws, pay rises and conditions negotiated by union members acting together. So they save themselves a few bucks by not joining. If everyone (or even a large enough majority) acted the same way, we’d all lose, though. Same goes for people who don’t vaccinate–they benefit from herd immunity without taking on the minor risk associated with vaccination; but if enough people acted likewise we’d all be screwed.

    There are all sorts of situations where the cost of not contributing to the group does the individual no harm because the benefits of the group action are shared beyond its members, but in which a critical mass is required within the group for there to be any benefit to anyone. What is it that makes a person say “I will take the risks in order that there will be benefits” or “I will allow others to take the risks and reap only gains for myself”? I’m interested in this at the level of individual psychology. Is it a matter of character? Where does that come from?

    ————————

    On the $40 nachos (a different type of situation), I also wonder what makes someone a freeloader or not. My brother, for example, is a tight arse who is always ordering the steak and a bottle of wine that only he and gf drink, then suggesting we split the bill–made worse because he has a white collar job and half my family is on welfare. At the latest shared family meal he brought $10 cash for a $20 meal and offered to deposit the extra money in someone’s account later. One of my sisters, to save the hassle, offered to cover his gap and he quickly started to agree before I put my oar in. My sister is freaking *unemployed*–she shouldn’t be covering his meal; it should be the other way around. Argh. I wonder where he gets this from, since we’re from the same parents and only 1 year apart.

    ————————

    The venting is strong with this one :)

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    …And this is why some rightwingers will fight welfare and public healthcare to your last breath – the idea that someone might be CHEATING THE SYSTEM makes them cry tears of bile.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The interesting question to me is which costs more in the long run — occasionally being taken advantage of by advantage-seeking jackwagons? Or being so vigilant against such exploitation that we all have to have our own everything?

    Actually, some facets of that question are explored quite well by non-zero-sum games and game theory. The Prisoners’ Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons are both efforts to explore this theme.

    The root of the “Jackwagon vs Serpent-Dove” tension boils down to the Serpent, I’m afraid. Being a jackwagon typically results in negative consequences to the jackwagon, which is why most of the time, people are decent enough. In situations like the lawn-mower-sharing, the consequences usually just aren’t that high, which makes being a jerk fairly advantageous.

    If I stiff people on my share of the bill when we go out to dinner, the most likely consequence is that well get separate checks next time. The next most likely consequence is that I don’t get invited out to the next dinner, or don’t get invited to other activities with that group. Now, if the group of people are co-workers that I’m not particularly fond of, well, that’s not much of a consequence. If these folks are long time friends whose company I greatly enjoy, then the (quite reasonable) shunning they give me is enough of a consequence for me not to stiff them on the bill.

    If I am friends with my neighbor, get along with them, socialize with them, and have a strong relationship, then being a jerk about the shared lawn mower has a stiff cost. If I don’t say six words to my neighbor across the street all year, do I really care if he thinks I’m a jerk?

  • Matri

    The whole dis-interest in sharing stuff boils down to one of the republican’s many dirty words: Socialism.

    None of them will agree to pay for the item for others to use. Why should I pay for deadbeats? Why can’t they get their own lawnmowers? Why do you need to take MY money? If they can’t afford their own mowers then they don’t deserve a good lawn. No! No! No! Mine! Mine! Mine!

    This mindset didn’t start with Obama’s universal healthcare proposal, but it was adapted wholesale to object to it. A hundred years ago this would have been unheard of.

    Heck, the Republican party of a hundred years ago was the exact opposite of the republican party of the present.

  • Lori

    ID-theft protection rackets

    I can’t even tell you how furious it makes me that these rackets are allowed to exist. The financial sector fails to do it’s due diligence and then used their failure as a reason to stick customers with yet another bill.

    Or, in other words, the arrangement would only be worth the potential savings if nobody was a jerk — if nobody was the sort of advantage-seeking jackwagon who never refills the gas can or who tries to get others to pay more than a fair share of maintenance costs.

    My friends and I found out the hard way that it really only does only take one jackwagon to screw things up. We used to go out to dinner together and have the $40 nachos problem. Then we noticed that we didn’t get stuck with $40 nachos every time, only when one particular couple came along. When T&K were with us we’d have to collect again and again to cover the bill. If they weren’t with us we’d get so much money on the first round that we’d be over by sometimes 20% or more. What we realized is that T&K paid for their entrees and a lousy tip, but they would often forget their drinks and never threw in for shared appetizers or desserts.

    It finally got so bad that no one wanted to go out to eat with them and friendships were being damaged. So, the rest of us agreed that when T&K were with us we’d either get separate checks or have one person do the math and tell each person or couple what their cut was so that T&K couldn’t “miscalculate” their share.

    That worked fine and I don’t think they ever realized why we changed the way we handled the bill. Still, I don’t even want to think about what it would be like to share real property with them. They’d pay for their half of the mower no problem, but they’d always short the gas and never pay for maintenance.

    Avoiding that sort of problem almost certainly costs more in money, but it saves a great deal in anxiety and friendships and I suspect that for most people that’s the deciding factor.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    The financial sector fails to do it’s due diligence and then uses their failure as a reason to stick customers with yet another bill.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS9ptA3Ya9E On Identity Theft.

    And yeah, it’s the same issue as welfare and Medicaid and so on and so forth: so long as there is even one person cheating the system, now matter how insignificant their impact on the system, the system is totally unfair and should be abolished. Ah, the free-rider problem.

  • cjmr’s husband

    I’d just like to say that (A) I just unpacked the mower today and (B) I want some nachos.

  • hagsrus

    “…the Gods were … powerless to do anything and in any case were engaged in an eons-old battle with the Ice Giants, who had refused to return the lawnmower.” (The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett)

  • cjmr

    Once the children are in bed I will make you some nachos.

  • ako

    And yeah, it’s the same issue as welfare and Medicaid and so on and so forth: so long as there is even one person cheating the system, now matter how insignificant their impact on the system, the system is totally unfair and should be abolished.

    Yeah. From a purely economic perspective, the tendency to spend far more on catching welfare cheats than it costs to let them get away with it makes no sense.

    But factor in “They’re cheating us!” outrage and hurt, and a lot of people not only want to spend as much as it takes to catch and punish the people scamming the system, but take apart the whole system because you can’t completely eliminate cheating. Because people aren’t fighting over the money, but over feeling hurt, feeling stupid, feeling betrayed, etc.

  • http://profiles.google.com/lawguy1946 Ronald Couch

    Many years ago my father owned a small plane with 2 other guys. Apparently, that is not all unsualy for private pilots. They had a contract and each had absolute right to do what ever with the plane on their day. They would also put in a certain amount of money into an account and pay for their own fuel. If someone wanted to use the plane for several days in a row to go on vacation forinstance they would schedule it before hand. It seemed to work pretty well.

  • Froborr

    I have seen hardware stores and occasionally even grocery stores offer carpet-cleaner rentals. According to my fiancee, she has been to at least one hardware store that had lawnmowers under the same system.

    Of course, one alternative is to not waste our precious fresh water and soil on grass and instead plant market gardens.

  • cjmr

    Froborr: “Of course, one alternative is to not waste our precious fresh water and soil on grass and instead plant market gardens.”

    Which is, of course, why I spent a bunch of money on an electric tiller yesterday. Checked into renting them–the local hardware only rents gas-powered models. A 24-hour rental costs 1/3 the price of buying an electric one, and you have to reserve it a couple weeks in advance, when you have no idea whether your 24 hour period will be rain-free or not. We decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    Of course, one alternative is to not waste our precious fresh water and soil on grass and instead plant market gardens.

    What? Not have a lawn? How will I display my aristocratic tendencies? Where will I graze my goats?

    Actually, I’m entirely in agreement with you. I hate lawns. There was something I read ages ago that suggested you could get away with a narrow strip of grass around pretty much any sort of planting. By “get away with”, I mean not have neighbors complain about the fact that you didn’t have a lawn.

  • TheRealAaron

    There are a number of comments here suggesting that it’s not worth trying to stop cheaters because even paying a little extra to cover for them is still cheaper. I don’t agree.

    In many of the above comments, the cost is being considered in this way:
    cost per person = [total cost / (honest people – cheaters)] + cost of catching cheaters
    and the suggestion is that removing “cost of catching cheaters” lessens the “cost per person”.

    I would suggest that removing the “cost of catching cheaters” would lead to an equation more like this:
    cost per person = total cost / (honest people – [n * cheaters])
    where n is a number greater that 1.

    That is, even if not all cheaters are caught, the cost of attempting to catch some cheaters will dissuade people from attempting to cheat. In the end, it might outweigh the cost of the additional safeguards against cheating.

    Perhaps people who decry “cheating” of real-life systems (like tax laws or welfare) aren’t just crybabies, but are actually making the more ration decision.

  • Anonymous

    Lawnmowers aren’t really the best example, at least in my experience in the northeast U.S. I live in an apartment but when I visit my mom, everyone uses their lawnmowers at the same time. Most people in her neighborhood work typical weekday hours, leaving just the weekend to mow. On top of that, they have to account for weather because you can’t mow in the rain. So even though each household uses the lawnmower for just 3ish hours every 7 or 14 days, they’re all doing it at the same time as each other. I don’t see how any of them could manage to share when they all need to use the thing at the same time.

  • Anonymous

    As a teenager, I was heavily involved in volunteer work. It’s something I’ve been meaning to get back into, but that’s a different story. Anyway, when I mention it to people, I have noticed that this is one key area where conservative and liberal thought diverge. So many people have challenged me by asking “What if some of those people aren’t really needy?” And my response is inevitably, “So what if they aren’t?”

    If I’m working at a soup kitchen and serve 95 hungry people, and 5 people who are sort of needy but not quite have just gotten a free meal, what should I do? Conservatives tell me that I should let the 95 people go hungry, while liberals tell me that I should let those 5 people game the system for the good of the rest of the people. It’s a little more complex than that, but it’s the one common thread I’ve seen among a lot of conservative thought. Most people want to help the needy, and most people want to punish liars or cheaters. But what about the times when we can’t do both? The way that we prioritize help over punishment is one of the defining factors in being liberal vs. conservative, IME.

    It sucks that banks got bailouts. I would love to see inept, greedy, ruthless CEOs get their punishment. But is the satisfaction of seeing that punishment worth letting more innocent people lose their jobs? Is it worth letting the economy get even worse? It’s a tough question with no clear answer, but the way you approach it matters.

    Another issue is programs like Head Start, or education in general. Spending money, investing money, to get low-income kids to succeed saves us money in the long run when those kids don’t commit as many crimes. And there are ways to help criminals get back on track, but prison alone isn’t one of them. But conservatives don’t want to spend money to prevent crime if it means helping a criminal or potential criminal. In their minds, punishment is the only response, even if it costs us more money. Do drug addicts need help? Do they deserve it? What if they don’t deserve it but still need it?

    This is one area where I just don’t think I can line up with conservatives. Arguments fall apart when it comes down to this fundamental difference that we just can’t reconcile.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    @banancat

    I’m a volunteer with something that works kind of like a mobile soup kitchen–it’s a van that we park in designated areas for an hour at a time, giving out coffee, soup and sandwiches.

    A bunch of friends and colleagues have asked how we decide who to feed. I say “we ask to see their homeless card” and there’s always an “oh, OK” followed by a several second pause while the person realises there is no such thing.

    Our rule is very simple: we give food and drink to whoever asks for it. That means that often we give stuff to people who technically have a roof over their heads, but live in a boarding house or somewhere else they don’t want to spend much time in, and they want the company as much as the chat. That’s cool with us–there’s hunger for more than bread. Often we give drinks to young people moving between clubs. That’s cool with us–they need the hydration. Sometimes we give a coffee to an obviously affluent person heading home from the shops who was curious about what we’re doing. We’re cool with that, too–it builds social capital.

    Interestingly, I’ve yet to come across someone who expresses outrage once I’ve explained it like this. But then, Australian conservatives seem to be quite different to US conservatives–and perhaps conservatives don’t talk to me much about volunteer work to begin with!

  • ako

    Interesting. When I was in the Philippines, I’d buy food for a lot of street kids (generally an apple or an individual box of milk or something – I had a somewhat-limited budget and was trying for things that were reasonably healthy, affordable for me to buy ten or twenty of, and likely to be eaten by the kids). At one point, a new kid came by asking for an orange (I was buying oranges from a local fruit stand that day). A bunch of the other kids started telling him he shouldn’t be there and insisting he wasn’t poor and hungry enough. I kept telling them I didn’t care and he could have an orange if he wanted one, but there was still the “This is only for people who need it enough!” reaction.

    They were good kids, and generally quite kind and generous (they always wanted to help me across the street, carry my groceries, etc.), but there was the definite insistence on weeding out the ‘unworthy’.

  • Lori

    They were good kids, and generally quite kind and generous (they always wanted to help me across the street, carry my groceries, etc.), but there was the definite insistence on weeding out the ‘unworthy’.

    I wonder if the children weren’t simply afraid that free loaders would endanger your willingness to give at all. Also your personal charity was necessarily limited and you could only give away 20ish items. It would be pretty obvious when someone more needy missed out because someone less needy got one of those 20 items. I think that’s the sort of situation that tends to make people hyper-vigilant about who is and is not “deserving”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VAV5XMWGZ4KTRQAL7PTWOBKBQE peter

    My current “job” is in database management for a small local food shelter. There are two feel-good parts to this job- one, I get to help hungry people get food, which is cool and makes me feel like I’m doing something. Secondly though, a lot of my job revolves around catching the sort of person who will try to scam a food bank!

    It’s amazing how many people try to screw the system (mostly by two members of the same family running separate accounts.) But it’s also amazing to hear stories of how this is helping to make more food available for needy people, and how many people aren’t trying to pull a fast one.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen this principle at work too. In fact, I have a little aphorism that I use to sum it up

    Conservatives are afraid that somebody is going to get something they don’t deserve. Liberals are afraid we’re all going to get exactly what we deserve.

    I think this dynamic comes down less to “I want to help” vs. “I want to punish” or even rational economic analysis (otherwise, it would be no big deal convincing people that catching welfare / foodstamp cheats is a perfectly valid way of dealing with system fraud.) I think it comes down to the ability to imagine yourself as someone else. The question that gets posed is along the lines “Would I take things from other people to help myself?” Not necessarily “Would I cheat welfare?” but “If I was starving and I found a rich guys wallet, would I return it?” Taxation IS a form of coercive giving – I mean, you DO get in trouble if you don’t pay your taxes to help with (what little there is.) social spending.

    To my mind, most conservatives suffer from this weird sort of moral false-conciousness where they THINK they’d return the wallet. (Maybe they would, I don’t know. To me this tends to make them either totally irrational zealots, or sitting atop a steaming pile of self-deception.) Liberals on the other hand, I don’t think they have this problem. They know that if push came to shove, the rich guy isn’t going to miss the hundred bucks they stole out of his wallet. But, you know, they still STOLE it, so they don’t really concern themselves so much with some sort of imaginary perfect justice, because they’re aware enough to realize than in such a world, we’d all be well and truly screwed.

    Again, this leaves me in the spot where I am incapable of understanding how the phrase “Conservative Christian” is not considered an oxymoron of the same ironic magnitude of the “email-only” support option from my ISP, or the mythical Braille driving test.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I have noticed another related issue, where conservatives seem to misunderstand the psychology of human behavior (including their own behavior), and therefore they tend to grossly over-estimate the power of threat of punishment. This is in support of my previous theory. You see it everywhere, from Randroids believing that everyone makes purchases on a perfectly rational basis, to parents who think that spanking is effective, to certain religious types thinking that people can’t be good without the threat of Hell, to people who like the government to do symbolic but useless gestures as a way to “send the right message”, to Republicans who think that giving food to hungry people make them lazy.

    It really seems to me that conservatives believe everyone bases their behavior on a simple risk vs. reward model, and they want to make risks higher for behavior they disapprove of, assuming that it will have a linear effect. They never stop to think that maybe their assumption is wrong, which I find highly ironic because even their own behavior isn’t determined this way. So they think that if a few people can game the system and cheat a soup kitchen out of a little bit of food, everyone will suddenly start doing it because there will be nothing to stop them.

    The reason that I’ve never stolen money is because I’ve never needed to. Even though there have been plenty of times when I could have easily gotten away with it (being white, female, and affluent), I have still never stolen anything. Most people haven’t. Even the conservatives who think punishment is all-important would probably not steal even if they were guaranteed to have no punishment in this life or after it. But they don’t realize the motivation for their own behavior.

  • Monala

    My own thought (one that used to be said frequently by Christians), is “there but for the grace of God go I.” So if I were homeless and starving, would I want there to be soup kitchens around to help me? Since the answer is yes, why wouldn’t I want that for people currently in that situation?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Calvinism lets you change even “There but for the grace of God go I” into an expression of entitlement and self-satisfaction.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    @TheFaithfulStone

    Conservatives are afraid that somebody is going to get something they don’t deserve. Liberals are afraid we’re all going to get exactly what we deserve.</blockquote

    That doesn't fit with the extra-US understanding of the term 'liberal'. In my part of the world, for example, liberalism is, in essence, a philosophy of limited government intervention–it's not the opposite of conservatism; it's a point on a different scale. So someone who identifies as liberal generally prefers nature to run its course in social and economic matters rather than having government try to prod things towards one end or other. I imagine that if you held this belief you'd be likely to expect things in their natural state to work out well for yourself*, and you'd probably reason that this is because you deserve it. When the natural state of affairs works out badly for other people, I imagine you'd have to rationalise that either they deserved it, or the world is inherently unjust and you're fine with that.

    So no, I don't think liberals, as in people who hold to the philosophy of liberalism, fear getting what they deserve. They expect it, and expect that they deserve good things.

    *As it happens, in my part of the world liberals tend to be people with relatively high power and privilege, so nature left to run its own course does tend to work out well for such people.

    this leaves me in the spot where I am incapable of understanding how the phrase “Conservative Christian” is not considered an oxymoron

    Depends on your understanding of conservatism. I like Waleed Ali’s description of conservatism as a philosophy that is inherently anti-revolutionary. Conservatives believe any social change should occur gradually, and naturally if possible. He makes it clear that conservatism is not the same thing as nationalism, politicised nostalgia, xenophobia, the economic right wing or a reactionary position to social change, although these have tended to be bedfellows in the political shift marked by the start of the Reagen/Thatcher era.

    Anyway, viewed through this particular lens, it is possible for someone to be a conservative who believes in justice, has empathy for the poor etc. etc. So a Christian being a conservative is not necessarily as absurd as it seems in the modern political context of conservativism.

    As it happens, I am not a conservative under this narrow definition because I believe that the injustices against the most marginalised in society are so severe that gradual change is not sufficient. Justice delayed etc. I’m also a Christian who thinks that the gospel is radical and revolutionary, so personally I don’t think anyone following in Christ’s footsteps would be a conservative by any measure. So, yeah, “Christian conservative” is still an oxymoron to me, but in a more philosophical, les stark sense than I think you were getting at.

  • Veylon

    Ah, lawnmowers. I still have to drag mine up from the basement. Lest anyone think I’ve been tardy, there’s still little piles of snow here and there.

    As for sharing, yeah, Fred’s pretty much hit it on the head. Besides, there’s a stigma attached to it, both the Socialistic kind that identifies it with Hippie Soviets and the class-warfare kind that marks as a sign of insufficient affluence. Simple thriftiness and community spirit are no longer in vogue.

  • http://twitter.com/tiikerikani Tuuli Mustasydän

    And then there’s (more traditional) Chinese families/friends, whose custom is to take turns paying for the entire meal rather than going Dutch. That being said, we still each own our own lawn mower, though we borrow each other’s power tools and stuff.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    And then there’s (more traditional) Chinese families/friends, whose custom is to take turns paying for the entire meal rather than going Dutch.

    A fantastic approach, and I’m sure it works with a large number of families. It’s not jerk-proof, however. I had a great aunt would “generously” pay for my mother’s lunch at McDonald’s, only to turn around that night and suggest that my mother cover that night’s dinner at the steak house in return.

  • VilleVicious

    I think that problem can be healped a bit by having the person/couple whos turn it is to pay choose the venue where the group eats. This won’t distribute the cost eavenly, but it should help people choose places that reasonably priced for their budget and nobody has to pay more than they can afford. I’m planning on using this type of system in the future when I’m dating.

  • Daughter

    A friend of mine who is Chinese said there is also a tradition of giving your family presents on your birthday: you’re thanking them for your life.

  • Anonymous

    @banancat
    I’ve seen the same behavior even when finite resources are not at stake. In one of my courses I take notes by hand and then type them up after class in order to have a nicer copy. I will also email my notes to anyone who asks.* On learning of this arrangement, my conservative relatives frequently made comments to the effect of “but aren’t you worried that people won’t do the work themselves and just take advantage of you to get notes?” Even when I pointed out that I had absolutely nothing to lose by sharing and that I have a lot to gain they still aren’t happy.**

    It’s just…strange.

    *The professor has no problem with the arrangement. He made it clear the first day that all he is interested in is whether or not we learn the material. If someone doesn’t come to class but is able to get notes from another person to make it up then he’s fine.

    **After explaining my reasons to my grandmother, she sniffed and said “Well, I just don’t want you to be taken advantage of.”

    @ Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart
    The idea of “social capital” is, I think, something more than a few people struggle with. Perhaps it is due to an over-focus on that which is material. I worked for an animal rescue and would frequently take the time to answer questions or talk to people who had no intention of adopting from us. Another rescuer told me once that I was “putting too much effort” into the passers-by “considering they’re not going to adopt anyway.” I pointed out that how we treated people who came by would influence how they viewed our organization. If we treated them as “lesser” because they were not planning to adopt then they probably wouldn’t come back when they were ready to find an animal. They might even complain about us to their friends. If, however, we treated everyone equally well then that would only increase our ability to find forever homes for the animals—even if we didn’t see the effects right away. Unfortunately, my explanation didn’t take.

  • rejiquar

    There’s the difficulty of building trust, too. By the time you’ve got to know your neighbor well enough to say, `hey, you’re welcome to borrow my lawnmower’ s/he’s probably already purchased hir own. And overcoming shyness or fear of rejection (hey, can I rent your electric mower now that my sister-in-law’s hand-me-down has died)? Hard, for us introverts.

    Otoh, if you’re already a part of the community it’s easier. Hence, things like hackerspaces, or co-ops, which are self-selecting, groups presumably you’re already simpatico with if you’ve joined. Or this group. Even though I hardly ever post, I figure if I say, hey! JJohnson! PLEASE, get that hammer fixed (new handle and wedge, lots of howtos on the web, I’m sure) or retire and hang on the wall as a part of your family memorabilia, cuz loose hammer heads can cause *serious* injuries, ze will understand that I’m genuinely worried, and not being a prat.

    (Yes, really. I understand the appeal of using old tools, family tools. I’m actually rather surprised no-one else has already brought that up. Too much reading FH, FW, even though I’m not especially expert with either, though I do use tools a lot in other contexts.

    —rejiquar

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Oh I understand; I probably didn’t explain it well enough really – I rarely use that hammer anymore for anything. I did, for a long time, but it’s past the point where I feel it’s safe using it now-a-days.

    The point really was to illustrate in clear terms that once you have a familiarity for a particular tool and it’s little intricacies – the way it sits in your hand, the way it moves when you use it, any defects it may have and any special features that a comparable tool may not have… you get the idea – you come to know and understand it and can use that particular object to it’s best effect.

    A good example would be my computer. If I’m at my computer, I can type 80 wpm easy; usually with few mistakes and little backspacing. If I’m at an unfamiliar machine, I’m usually a bit lost – I can’t find my keys quite right (the spacing isn’t exact, sometimes the Enter key is big, sometimes it’s a narrow strip, the keys themselves aren’t worn smooth with subtle finger indentations like mine are) – likewise the monitor will usually throw me. Either it’ll be an old CRT, which will feel like a fisheye lens to me… other times it’s the chair or the desk; it all feels strange and wrong.

    That’s what I was trying to get across there, the hammer was just an example of something I could think of off the top of my head that had an obvious defect that I knew how to compensate for that many others wouldn’t. (The hammer’s head got so loose we had to duck tape it… that’s when I stopped using it.)

  • Anonymous

    My dad and our next-door-neighbor share a lawn mower. We’ve always kept it in our shed, since ours was in better shape (our handyman dismantled the neighbor’s shed and hauled it away last week). Also, it’s an electric mower, so we keep it charged ourselves, since it’s in our shed. 8-)

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    I have a friend who spent some time in Japan. One day, the building manager of the apartment they were staying in came around and said that they would be cutting the lawn that weekend. My friend thanked the manager, and told his wife – they were puzzled, but figured the manager was warning them about the noise or something. Come the weekend, it turned out that mowing the lawn was a communal process – no lawnmowers, but rather tiny sickles that each resident used to clip the grass. In the Autumn and in the Spring, men with large totally unsafe whirling blade machines came by and cut the grass professionally, but otherwise, it was done by the residents, each one down on their hands and knees, clipping grass by hand.

  • Dubb

    This post caught me days before I saw this video from TEDxSydney http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/rachel_botsman_the_case_for_collaborative_consumption.html

    The presenter (Rachel Botsman) speaks very interestingly on the emerging trend of collaborative consumption (one of her examples: “you don’t need the power drill, you need the hole.”).

    I don’t know that it’s as dire as you think it is Fred.

  • Anonymous

    i’m sort of confused by this – we’ve *always* pooled lawnmowers with neighbors. i mean, my dad made a deal with about 15 of his neighbors, and he bought a riding lawnmower [was going to ANYWAY] and he mows all the lawns twice a month, and cleans the snow from driveways/sidewalks, and they pay for the gas, maitenence, etc. i can’t remember a time when this wasn’t the case, even during the times when my dad paid me to mow the lawn, he was mowing other people’s lawns [for gas and maitenence.]

    or… i’m not capable of driving right now. so i’m lending my car to some friends, who are paying the insurance [and for repairs – and i felt REALLY bad, because they had buy 2 new tires the first week, and wouldn’t let me pay for them…]

    maybe we’re just weird?

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    The jerk problem seems to be as much psychological as it is practical. Quite often, the cost of the cheaters is not that much, and it’s still cheaper to buy into a system with a small amount of cheating than to pay for everything yourself, but emotionally, the feeling of being ripped off makes it not seem worth it.

    And that’s reinforced by the fact that, in some situations, that cost-benefit assessment actually works.

    I saw a documentary about a sense of justice in children once, and they ran an experiment: two children were given ten sweets to share. One child got to divvy them up, and the other got to say if they accepted the division. If they did, they got whatever share of the sweets their partner chose to give them. If they didn’t, neither child got any sweets.

    Consistently, the divvying kid would begin by taking eight or nine sweets for themselves. Just as consistently, the other kid would refuse to accept the division. (I remember a conversation: ‘But you won’t get any sweets at all that way,’ said the divider, puzzled. ‘I don’t care,’ replied their partner, ‘it’s not fair.’)

    Then they got the opportunity to do it again – and this time the divvying kid had learned. Consistently, they’d offer their partner either five or four sweets, and the offer would be accepted.

    Which is to say, if we can refuse an unfair deal in a way that makes it plain to the potential partner why we’re doing it, and if we’ll be dealing with them in future, there’s a long-term advantage to refusing to be ripped off even if it costs you in the short term: next time they’ll know better than to be a jerk, and if we have to deal with them more than one more time, we’re ahead. The trouble comes when things aren’t so clear-cut in terms of who’s dividing, who’s refusing, who’s sharing and who’s bogarting, but when the impulse is still around.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    The jerk problem seems to be as much psychological as it is practical. Quite often, the cost of the cheaters is not that much, and it’s still cheaper to buy into a system with a small amount of cheating than to pay for everything yourself, but emotionally, the feeling of being ripped off makes it not seem worth it.

    And that’s reinforced by the fact that, in some situations, that cost-benefit assessment actually works.

    I saw a documentary about a sense of justice in children once, and they ran an experiment: two children were given ten sweets to share. One child got to divvy them up, and the other got to say if they accepted the division. If they did, they got whatever share of the sweets their partner chose to give them. If they didn’t, neither child got any sweets.

    Consistently, the divvying kid would begin by taking eight or nine sweets for themselves. Just as consistently, the other kid would refuse to accept the division. (I remember a conversation: ‘But you won’t get any sweets at all that way,’ said the divider, puzzled. ‘I don’t care,’ replied their partner, ‘it’s not fair.’)

    Then they got the opportunity to do it again – and this time the divvying kid had learned. Consistently, they’d offer their partner either five or four sweets, and the offer would be accepted.

    Which is to say, if we can refuse an unfair deal in a way that makes it plain to the potential partner why we’re doing it, and if we’ll be dealing with them in future, there’s a long-term advantage to refusing to be ripped off even if it costs you in the short term: next time they’ll know better than to be a jerk, and if we have to deal with them more than one more time, we’re ahead. The trouble comes when things aren’t so clear-cut in terms of who’s dividing, who’s refusing, who’s sharing and who’s bogarting, but when the impulse is still around.

  • Anonymous

    One reason lawn mowers aren’t a good example is that lawn mowers simply aren’t that expensive (unless you want a lawn tractor or an upscale standard mower), and are quite durable.

    I’ve been mowing my lawn since 1994. My first mower cost $100, and its successor (still going strong) cost $125. If I needed a new mower today, I’d have to pay about $150 for a decent Sears Craftsman mower.

    So we’re talking capital costs of about $12 a year that might be shared. Annual maintenance – fresh oil, a new sparkplug and air filter every spring – comes to another ~$7. Sharpening the blade: $30 one time, midway through a projected 10-year lifetime of the mower, $3/year. So we’re talking ~$22/year in expenses that could potentially be split. Potential savings to each family annually: $11, the cost of a pizza.

    A second reason is that there might well be no savings at all. If 2 families were sharing a mower, you’d probably want to do the annual maintenance twice a year. You’d notice the blade wasn’t cutting as well sooner, so you’d need more sharpening. And the mower simply might not last as many years. If doubling the use doubles the maintenance, and if the mower lasts 7 years instead of 10, the annual savings to each family are more like $4.

    That’s a level of savings that really isn’t worth the hassle of coordinating the use of the mower with your neighbors, no matter how well you get along with them.

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    We have been sharing things like mowers and tools with our neighbors since we bought our house. I think a big part of it is that we bought a house across the street from good friends – so we already had the relationship.

  • Amaryllis

    The New York Times Magazine ran a story recently profiling a system of “wet houses,” residences for chronic alcoholics. These are the guys who haven’t been able to stop drinking regardless of 12-step programs or hospital stays or jail terms, and who’d otherwise be homeless. They get room and board, medical care, cable and internet, and a small allowance that, yes, most of them spend on booze. They aren’t required to stop drinking, but it’s counted as victory if they’re able to cut down.

    The houses are supported partly by Catholic Charities and partly by public (state of Minnesota) funding, on the calculation that it costs less to support the “hopeless” cases in a controlled setting than to pay for the emergency medical, social and legal services that they’d be using, or causing other people to need, if they were living on the streets. Are they “jerks” working the system, getting their living for nothing? Or people with a life-threatening disease receiving social support?

    Predictably, there are those that are outraged that tax money, or even charity money, is essentially being used to support jobless addicts at a minimum level of comfort while they, to be blunt, drink themselves to death, and the financial cost-benefit calculation doesn’t seem like any justification. But I guess, if I were a chronically homeless alcohol addict, I’d be grateful for such a place.

  • http://profiles.google.com/james.e.hanley James Hanley

    FYI, the problem you’re describing is known to political scientists and economists as a collective action problem. Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom went so far as to say that political science was the study of collective action problems.

    The small-scale examples you describe here are structurally identical to larger scale collective action problems like overdrawing of water from aquifers and rivers, overfishing ocean fisheries, etc.

    The interesting question to me is which costs more in the long run — occasionally being taken advantage of by advantage-seeking jackwagons? Or being so vigilant against such exploitation that we all have to have our own everything?

    That’s one of the fundamental questions explored by scholars like Ostrom. The simple, and not so helpful, answer is “it depends.” The smaller the group, the more likely (although not with any certainty) that it’s cheaper to allow oneself to occasionally be taken advantage of. The value of the good plays a factor, too–if it’s really expensive, having your own may not be worthwhile; on the other hand, if the benefit that it provides is really valuable and you risk losing that benefit, it may be worth buying your own even if it’s an expensive item. Social factors play a big role here, too. Tight-knit groups with clear social rules about how to behave are more capable of sharing than less cohesive groups or those that haven’t developed clearly social rules (and means to enforce them).

    It’s a fascinating area of research that helps define the line between self-governance and top-down government. One of the conclusions I’ve drawn from it is that government–while unfortunately necessary at times–represents a failure of self-governance, and sometimes an unnecessary subversion of self-governance.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    I find sharing working reasonably well in my extended circle of friends. It is strongly a matter of community: There is generositiy and agreement, but there is also control. When it comes to putting one’s part of the pizza money on the table, no one will look politely away. However, if someone is seen not paying, everyone will assume absent-mindedness and politely remind them and help them check the numbers, so no one will lose face.

    Similar with lawnmowers, cars, power tools, camping gear, kitchen gear, what-have-you. One element to make everyone agreeable is that there’s an easy way out for everyone. Don’t want to borrow, buy your own. You’ll be no worse off than if you had bought your own from the beginning. Don’t want to lend, or not to that person, don’t. As long as everyone is allowed to keep face, conflict stays minimal.

    I see the lending and borrowing of things also as an exchange of status which is, if it works, win-win. (Which is why “keeping face” is an important element). The lender gains status as the owner of good stuff worth of usage, the borrower as being thrifty and trustworthy. Even though some people have for more usefull stuff to lend out, the scales balance.

    And along the way, people do not only save money, but spare themselves the clutter.

  • http://profiles.google.com/james.e.hanley James Hanley

    P.S. If anyone’s interested, I commented on the subject in my own blog. /shameless self promotion.

  • http://lyorn.livejournal.com/ inge

    Could someone please tell me about threading/quoting guidelines here?

    ako: People have a horror of being taken, and even when it’s cheaper to occasionally get ripped off, most people aren’t going to shrug it off and go “Eh, I’m still saving overall.”

    I try for, “I can afford to be generous, and people who feel they have the need to sponge have enough problems without me adding to them.” I reserve my anger for thos who I cannot afford to be generous to because they spend more in a day than I make in a month.

    Chris: If I stiff people on my share of the bill when we go out to dinner, […] Now, if the group of people are co-workers that I’m not particularly fond of, well, that’s [not getting invited] not much of a consequence.

    Not getting invited isn’t. But while your friends might know you and still love you, if you become known as an unrealiable freeloader in your place of work, and you are inviting trouble.

    Sgt. Pepper: In my work example, non-union members benefit from the safety laws, pay rises and conditions negotiated by union members acting together.

    Fun thing, in Germany only union members are legally entitled to union-negotionated benefits. Most employers are very careful to pay everyone union wages and benefits as to avoid mass unionisation. Occasionally, one isn’t, and the union notices a sudden increase in membership…

    chris the cynic: I wouldn’t be surprised if the relationship between communism and/or socalism and Christianity hadn’t suffered as much elsewhere.

    Socialism was atheist because the churches had long aligned with power, becoming powers in themselves and enacting and supporting reactionary politics, up to and including sponsoring coups. When you want to build a better henhouse, you don’t get a fox for an architect. Also, the promise of consolation in the next life as a prize for submission and obedience in this one was not useful for socialist ideas. And finally, socialism built on what workers had in common. Which wasn’t religion.

    hidden_urchin: Unfortunately, my explanation didn’t take.

    I vaguely remember that statistic that every unsatisfied customer will tell 12 (?) other people. People love to tell stories about rude and stupid people and organisations. One should avoid to become the antagonist in such a tale.

  • Caravelle

    Could someone please tell me about threading/quoting guidelines here?

    As far as I know threading is disabled; when you click “reply” your reply ends up at the end of the comments, with “in reply to X” next to your name, and X when clicked on gives the post you’re replying to. So that’s convenient.

    I don’t know if there’s an actual consensus on best practices yet. What I do is click “reply” to whatever I wish to reply to, type directly what I want if I’m replying to the whole comment, blockquote selected extracts the usual way if I’m not. Sometimes I also reply to others in the same comment, in which case I name and quote them the way I usually would.

  • Indygal

    Living in the midst of an urban hardwood forest, we have shared a leaf collector with a neighbor for 13 years. The arrangement may actually outlive the equipment itself.

  • Indygal

    Oh – and another neighbor uses our extension ladder in exchange for us using his fertilizer spreader.

  • http://twitter.com/longwayround Luke Bosman

    When we’re all sharing our mowers, won’t the mower industry complain that mower-sharing is killing lawns?

  • Alp1022

    I remember my dad and a couple of neighbors going in together for a tiller. It seemed to be more a case of all of them wanting one but not wanting to pay so much for something that they would only use once or twice a year. The only “freeloading” type issue I can remember was my parents telling one of the co-owners that they couldn’t deliver it–he would have to come get it.

    In response to TheRealAaron “the cost of catching cheaters” is not an either/or proposition. There is a point where the cost exceeds anything that might be saved from preventing cheating. We had some incidents recently of a crook robbing a certain newspaper machine. Very petty theft, though harmful to the person who sold the newspapers and the customers. But one of the reasons any jerk can put a few coins in one of these machines and take, in theory, more papers than you paid for is because they aren’t worth taking more to protect. And frankly it would take a real jerk to steal newspapers–they have little resale value and a limited shelf life.

    What we seem to do in our attempts to stop the “cheats” and the “undeserving” from benefiting from “government benefit” programs or charity is the equivalent of stationing a 24-hour guard around a newspaper machine. Or we make the application process so complicated that people just give up (or complain about the government bureaucracy). There doesn’t seem to be much of a cost- benefit analysis to the “fraud” prevention. I am inclined to agree with whoever said a lot of it was about not wanting to feel used.


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