Friday, September 08, 2006

Yes, Incentives Matter -- When They're Strong Enough

Warning: My picture today may be offensive to more sensitive stomachs. Here it is:

Doggie Bag

That object is doggie poop in a little Glad Bag. It's something I find all over my neighborhood when I go out walking, and I don't just see this once a year; it's more like once a week.

This is how a few dog owners think they're thwarting Municipal Code Section 53.49, which states:

"It shall be unlawful for the owner or person having custody of any dog to fail to immediately remove and dispose of in a sanitary manner, by replacing in a closed or sealed container and depositing in a trash receptacle [emphasis added], any feces deposited by such dog upon public or private property [etc., otherwise he or she will be committing] an infraction, punishable by a fine of $20.00."

They probably think they're obeying the law, but I suspect they've never read the actual wording.

Economics tells us that incentives (and disincentives, like fines) matter, and our streets are probably cleaner as a result of this law. But incentives will always be subject to the variances of human nature. A very few people disregard all laws. A larger but still small subsection simply disregard a particular law. Still others have a deformed, rationalizing guilty conscience that forces them to this kind of twisted compromise. They don't want people to step in it, so they'll go to the trouble of bagging it; however, rather than carry the nasty little offering around with them until they pass a trash can, they'd rather risk the twenty bucks.

And at 6:00 a.m., the risk drops to about zero.

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