This is the second installment in our continuing series on the Economics of toilets. After the issue of whether the seat should be left up, let us discuss toilet cleaning. We have all seen this: the toilets on your floor are a mess, the person in charge is gone for the day, and one cannot leave the restrooms in such a pitiful state because they are an embarassement. What is going to happen?
Marc Bilodeau and Al Slivinski have the response: the person who cares the most will end up cleaning, even if this is the department chairman. I concur, as I have seen this happen in two separate departments... Their argument is based on the all too familiar search for a volunteer for a job nobody wants to do: it is a war of attrition, were the one person who cares the most relative to the required effort finally gives in. Knowing this, this person volunteers right away. Interestingly, the authors show also that even if people care how well and by whom the job will be done, the outcome is not changed.
Such situations are not limited to toilet cleaning. In fact, department chairing itself is often a thankless job with a positive externality on everyone. When a new chairperson needs to be found, there is a war of attrition until a good soul volunteers, "because it is my turn" or "I owe it to the department." And if it turns out that the person who cares the most, taking into account how much effort it entails for this person, is the one that volunteers, we have another example of comparative advantage leading to an optimal outcome.