Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Alex Tabarrok gets shot

Posted by Daniel Hall on November 12, 2007

The flu shot, that is. And so did I. And so should you. Alex explains:

People who have the flu spread the virus so getting a flu shot not only reduces the probability that I will get the flu it reduces the probability that you will get the flu. In the language of economics the flu shot creates an external benefit, a benefit to other people not captured by the person who paid the costs of getting the shot.

Hooray for public goods!

Update:  Lynne Kiesling, in a very smart post about externalities, posits that the private benefits to Alex of vaccination well outweigh his costs.  His decision is thus inframarginal and a public subsidy for his vaccination would be a wealth transfer but not improve behavior.  I would say this illustrates a public good created by families and other tight social networks — they encourage citizens to act selflessly.  I would also say that surely someone out there is on the margin about a vaccination decision, and it would make sense if we could target a subsidy at them.  Off-hand I would guess that this group would include the poor and uninsured — although that might primarily be a problem of access and information — and the young, single, and socially mobile, since they are less likely to have compelling reasons to act selflessly.  And, let’s face it, they are frequently lazy.  I rarely got a flu shot when I was in my early 20s; I knew it was a good idea in theory, but just couldn’t be bothered.

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4 Responses to “Alex Tabarrok gets shot”

  1. That title was an unfair tease.

  2. As I commented over in response to Lynne Kiesling’s post at Knowledge Problem, while payments to Alex would be a pure wealth transfer, since I haven’t had a flu shot yet, credible offers of payment to me have a chance to promote the public good.

    Email me for payment options.

  3. Lynne said

    I haven’t gotten one either. Email me and I’ll tell you my Paypal address for anyone who wishes to attempt to influence my behavior ;-).

    Thanks for the link! Your site is a great addition to the network.

  4. Daniel Hall said

    Mike and Lynne seem to have forgotten that there is a far cheaper way for me to avoid incurring personal costs from their negligent behavior — I can stay away from their geographic vicinity. They might do better seeking contributions to their physical — rather than electronic — mailboxes.

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