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I passed by a trash can this morning.  Full to bursting, it reminded me of ownership, stewardship and care.  I don’t know how long it took to get that full. but I hope someone empties it soon.  How soon that happens depends on who owns it, and how important it is to them.

The trash can probably belongs to the city, but was is next to a city bus stop.  The worst case would be if both the bus line and the city take responsibility for emptying trash cans.  Then both will see the other as negligent, and the trash won’t get emptied until somebody starts yelling at both of them.

The second worst is if one manages it.  Because both the bus route and the city  a pt of territory with a lot a trash cans, teach trash can only gets emptied on a cycle, perhaps weekly.  Perhaps monthly.  Both the city and the bus line are not in the primary position of providing sanitation services.

The bus stop and the trash can are in front of a gas station.  If the gas station owner saw the trash can as their responsibility, then it might get cleaned out daily.  Especially if pilots in traffic saw the trash can before the gas station, and saw it as an emblem of its quality.  This particular trashcan is downtraffic of the gas station, so the gas station owner has no reason to care for it..  The trash cans right next to the pumps do get cleaned regularly, however.

If a third party contractor was paid per trash can cleaned, then it would get done with more dispatch.  It would be their bread and butter, and you could bet it would get done.  Almost too well, as the contractor would quickly figure out what it took to tally “one trash can cleaned” and maximize that effort.  As long as fuel is cheap congestion light, expect the independent contractor to get paid as much as possible for driving around town like a racecourse.  Perhaps volume of trash should be figured into the ratable equation for this contractor

If you can pay somebody to care for exactly what the public cares for, and tie that pay to the maximization of that care, then you’ve got an honest broker for the public good.  Set the standard too clumsily, and you get all sorts of moral hazards and market failures.

Only some kinds of environmental goods fit into this mold, but where they exist they should be used.  Give somebody a property and cash interest in doing something, and it will get done.

The trash can was not this bad, I swear.

If someone wants to tell me the latin term for “Garbageman”, I’d be much obliged.