Monday, December 17, 2007

Solving the Tragedy of the Commons

I'm involved in a scholar program at George Mason, and as such, I have access to a Scholar lounge that the group built a few years ago. This lounge has a computer lab with a printer, but the printer has become a beautiful illustration of the tragedy of the commons. The basic solution to the tragedy of the commons, of course, is to privatize, but how do you privatize a printer in a lounge? No student would be willing to take that on.

How else can we solve the fact that the printer is always out of toner, paper, or both? The best I have come up with so far is putting no paper in the lounge, forcing students to invest in paper themselves (and hopefully preventing people from printing hundreds of unnecessary pages). We investigated buying a lock, forcing each person to enter a code to limit their printer use, but it was too expensive. Are there any better resolutions to this situation?

5 comments:

George Goodling said...

Deal with it. If you don't like the public service buy your own printer you cheap......
I believe that it is normal that public property will be heavily used and abused. It's free, why wouldn't people? What should happen is that those capable, whom the opportunity cost of dealing with the stressed out printer out weighs the cost of a new printer, will buy their own printer. As more and more people buy their own it will take away stress from the public printer and the macroeconomic printer scholar community will reach equilibrium. But honestly Pete, you are on full scholarship, you have a car, I bet you can find a printer for ten dollars on Craig's List. Our awesome local private exchange market. Then you can open up your own printing business in the private scholar freshman community. For a low rate you can save fellow scholars the long walk and stress of the communal printer. AND you pocket a nice little 3 cents a sheet.

Pete Abbate said...

Haha Atlee, I have a printer in my room. I still think there ought to be something we else we can do to improve the situation of the public printer, though.

P. Knox said...

How expensive would it be to track printing? If users were required to sign in to use the computer, then it should be relatively simple to know how much each person could print. And with that information, you could bill users at a fraction of the cost, or charge them for using more than their appropriate share. Then users would have the convenience of a working printer on the far side of campus and still be shielded from some of the costs. It might even be possible to conserve paper and toner without monetary penalties. If the number of pages printed by each scholar were publicly posted in the lounge, social pressure might curb excessive use.

Pete Abbate said...

I like utilizing social pressure a lot - I think you're right to say that could be most effective. Of course, you still have the problem that some of the people with access are alums who aren't really part of the community anymore. I think they would be fairly immune from social pressure, so some sort of monetary penalty would need to be instituted, or people who print more than their share would need to be simply cut off. I'm not sure about the feasibility of a log-on, but it sounds simple enough.

Josh Knox said...

Maybe nick would know.

Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty