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October 03, 2005
The Freakonomics guys explain how to waste $30 million on dog sh**
Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, the co-authors of the bestselling Freakonomics, have a bit of fun in the New York Times, as they use their new-found celebrity as an opportunity to chatter on about the economics and social incentives of dog poop in New York City. Since dog owners are only fined $50 for a failure to pick up after their pooch in NYC, the two authors find themselves asking the inevitable question: "Why do so many people pick up after their dogs? This would seem to be a case in which social incentives - the hard glare of a passer-by and the offender's feelings of guilt - are at least as powerful as financial and legal incentives."
Yet, what do you do when social incentives are plainly not enough? Well, say the authors, the answer could be a DNA sampling program for all licensed dogs in the city:
"Here's an idea: DNA sampling. During the licensing procedure, every dog will have to provide a sample of saliva or blood to establish a DNA file. Then, whenever a pile of poop is found on the sidewalk, a sample can be taken to establish the offender's DNA... Once the fecal DNA is matched to a given dog's DNA file, the dog's owner will be mailed a ticket. It might cost about $30 million to establish a DNA sample for all the dogs of New York. If people stop violating the law, then New York has spent $30 million for cleaner streets; if not, the $30 million is seed money for a new revenue stream."
Oh, and here's the real kicker -- the two Freakonomics guys suggest that the city should pay dog owners for licensing the mutts (it's all about incentives, ya' know). On top of that, the city should then expand its police force to keep a close eye on dog poop and to conduct spot checks of dog licenses.
Dude, this makes no sense. It's a bunch of mumbo-jumbo economics talk of rational behavior and incentives and other economics keywords that make you sound all smart... New York City would spend $30 million to create a DNA sample database for dogs, and then pay 1 million dog owners some kind of payment for licensing their dogs (so that's another 10 mil or so), and then pay police officers to hunt down dog poop? If the city won't spend $40 million to install a city-wide Wi-Fi network, it's not gonna install a dog DNA sampling database.
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