Making public goods excludable again

by on March 20, 2017 at 2:09 pm in Current Affairs, Law, Medicine, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink

One of Beijing’s busiest public toilets is fighting the scourge of toilet paper theft through the use technology – giving out loo roll only to patrons who use a face scanner.

The automated facial recognition dispenser comes as a response to elderly residents removing large amounts of toilet paper for use at home.

Now, those in need of paper must stand in front of a high-definition camera for three seconds, after removing hats and glasses, before a 60cm ration is released.

Those who come too often will be denied, and everyone must wait nine minutes before they can use the machine again.

But there have already been reports of software malfunctions, forcing users to wait over a minute in some cases, a difficult situation for those in desperate need of a toilet.

The camera and its software have also raised privacy concerns, with some users on social media uneasy about a record of their bathroom use.

Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.

1 rayward March 20, 2017 at 2:28 pm

“elderly residents removing large amounts of toilet paper for use at home” I suppose the combination of the one-child policy and no real social security for seniors has put seniors in a tight spot. Why not use the Japanese style toilets that are, well, hands and paper free.

2 Scott Mauldin March 20, 2017 at 3:09 pm

You vastly overestimate the level of restroom infrastructure in many areas of China. It’s often just a hole in the ground. And the inequality is so great that where there are flushing toilets there are poor elderly people who come scoop out water for home use.

3 Scott Mauldin March 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm

And to clarify I’m referring to Beijing, not some tiny farming village.

4 Ray Lopez March 20, 2017 at 3:34 pm

“For home use” you mean presumably for night soil use, not for consuming the fetid water. Historically Asia’s had a fecund night soil market, with night soil being priced according to how fertile it was (I am guessing human night soil went for more money than animal manure).

They don’t call septic tanks in the USA as “honey pots” for nutin’. Honey and nuts, mmm, mmm, good.

5 Scott Mauldin March 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm

I wish that’s what I meant. But no, I mean scooping of water out of toilet bowls in order to use the water.

6 Ray Lopez March 20, 2017 at 7:48 pm

@Scott Mauldin who says: “I wish that’s what I meant. But no, I mean scooping of water out of toilet bowls in order to use the water” – LOL! I have visited Beijing, it’s next to the Grand Canal, and it’s not the Sahara where you have to drink toilet water to survive. I don’t even think that do that in Timbuktu, Sahara, besides the fact you won’t live long if you drink toilet water regularly.

Bonus trivia that might not pass the censor: At the finals of the National Poetry Competition the two finalist were an unlikely pair. Finalist number one was a Harvard educated professor of literature and the winner of several previous competitions. Finalist number two was a young Marine Lcpl. from the hills of West Virginia who needed help filling out the entry form. The final round consisted of each competitor being given the same word and having thirty seconds to complete a verse, using the word. The Professor went first. The Judge said, ” The final word this year is ‘ Timbuktu’ ” The Prof. started thinking. Ten seconds went by. Twenty seconds. The crowd became nervous. After twenty eight seconds the Prof. began:
” Across the hot Sahara sand,
Trekked the dusty caravan.
Men on camels, two by two,
Destination- Timbuktu.
The crowd went wild, there was no way that the Hillbilly Marine would ever top that. The Lcpl. was brought on stage. The judge gave the word, ” Timbuktu. The young Lcpl. looked to the sky, he thought for 10 – 15 seconds, stepped up to the microphone, cleared his throat, and began:
“Tim ‘ en me, a-hunting went,
Met three girls in a pop-up-tent,
They was three and we was two,
So, I bucked one and Tim Buck Two!

7 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:06 pm

There is social security, but not much. Like, a small fraction of the poverty line.

8 Hazel Meade March 20, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Isn’t this basically why public toilets have ceased to exist in America?
If you want to use the toilet, you go into a fast food restaurant, where there are staff and security cameras who can catch people stealing rolls.

9 Ray Lopez March 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm

That and the fact they are gay sex hothouses (Google George Michael).

Bonus trivia: In India, the nearest toilet is often the nearest tree (same for the Philippines, but I don’t see people openly defecating there).

10 Moo cow March 20, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Gay sex hothouses? Lulz.

11 Scott Mauldin March 20, 2017 at 3:11 pm

“staff and security cameras who can catch people stealing rolls” Ha! If you want someone to care about things like that you have to pay them more than $8 an hour.

12 Cyrus March 20, 2017 at 6:31 pm

If the staff are also pilfering TP for personal use, they may police customer pilferage of TP on the theory that when the combined loss of TP from staff plus customer use crosses some threshold, the loss prevention manager will appear and ruin the whole thing.

13 Hazel Meade March 21, 2017 at 9:36 am

Well, it’s enough of a deterrent that people don’t generally steal toilet paper from the McDonald’s.
Staff at these places also tend to notice if the same homeless man keeps using the restroom and will chase him off.

14 Daniel Weber March 20, 2017 at 3:18 pm

The removable parts of public facilities, even at the office, are usually incompatible with home use whenever possible. They’ve learned this lesson a long time ago. When my father worked the auto factories, every 3-bulb fixture of light would be missing two bulbs, because people decided they were owed an extra light bulb as a bonus.

Offices have giant fluorescent tubes instead of light bulbs. Toilet paper comes in giant foot-wide rolls that you could never sneak out in your socks. If they could get some less useful dry-erase marker that only worked at the office, they’d use those, too.

15 Daniel Weber March 20, 2017 at 3:51 pm

This all reminds me of a “city bike” project where they decided to manufacture new custom bike parts for their bikes instead of off-the-shelf parts. Even though it was more expensive it was supposed to discourage theft.

I can’t quite Google it because I keep on finding bike-theft-prevention links. might be related but it suggests mass-market parts that could be stolen and sold to another bike sharing company.

16 lvps1000vm March 20, 2017 at 5:01 pm

All major city bike operators have nonstandard parts for this reason. All bikes of, say, Clear Channel (Stockholm, Mexico City, Barcelona…) are identical but incompatible with other bikes. Same with JC Decaux, the other big operator.

17 Jan March 21, 2017 at 5:45 am

And I’ve noticed that the bikes always have a fairly distinctive look, I assume at least in part to prevent theft. The bikes are also crap, but that is a different issue.

18 gab March 20, 2017 at 2:37 pm

I’m curious as to how they came up with the 60cm number. Were there studies done? Did they do a poll?

Inquiring minds want to know…

19 Hazel Meade March 20, 2017 at 3:08 pm

They interviewed some depression-era grandmothers.

20 coketown March 20, 2017 at 4:46 pm

60 centimeters is the length specifically mentioned by Mao in “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” section IX: On the Question of Disturbances Created by a Small Number of People. Party operatives are also scouring Mao’s writings to justify the switch from single-ply to double-ply. (Triple-ply, being the preference of counter-revolutionaries, is wholly out of the question.)

21 jim jones March 20, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Time for China to discover the bidet, or maybe those hi-tech Japanese toilets

22 poorlando March 20, 2017 at 8:50 pm

Toto toilets are a little pricey, and anyway, it’s nice to have tp around for a quick dry after the spritz. I forget if they all come with blowdryers.

23 David Belkin March 20, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Not a public good – nothing says “exhaustible” like toilet paper – but when supplied in public toilets, a common-pool resource, no? A teachable moment for my public economics class…

24 kimock March 21, 2017 at 4:05 am

A public good must be non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Use of a public toilet can be excluded through e.g. a vending-machine style coin payment.

25 liberalarts March 21, 2017 at 7:28 am

There are poor or very cheap people or people without coins on them who will have to or choose to use no paper then, and the externalities of that choice are obvious. Maybe the way to go is to give the first unit of it for free with some system and then have amounts beyond this available via coins.

26 Cooper March 20, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Easy solution, charge people based on how much toilet paper they use.

Put in a coin, get a certain amount of paper. Put in more coins, get more paper.

Problem solved!

27 Daniel Weber March 20, 2017 at 3:19 pm

What if my bills are paper to begin with?

28 Insult Dog March 20, 2017 at 3:28 pm

It should be a POOP recognition system.

29 Anonymous March 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Tragedy of the commodes.

Make as much fun of Indian toilet habits as you want , but water is the superior universal cleanser. And the West has only now realized why a crouching position is superior.

30 Troll me March 20, 2017 at 4:12 pm

I think the main reason tha tmuch of the world has not adopted Western toilets in public access locations outside of the home is because for some reason or another males outside of the West have a higher probability to do things like pee all over the place where other people might sit, and generally make a mess.

This happens in the West too, but outside of the West, it’s somewhere in the range of 90-100% likely unless it was cleaned in the last hour, as compared to maybe 5-10% of the time.

Maybe there’s a way that we can NOT throw people in prison for public drunkenness (and the like) while still retaining some very basic self discipline not to pee all over a surface that another person might likely sit on soon after?

31 RMM March 21, 2017 at 9:21 am

Having lived and worked where people have bad aim, even though crouching is already a custom, i disagree that crouching over a hole is clearly superior. The commodes were disgusting to the point of being totally unisable.

I do agree that crouching is probably better for your excretory function.

I see the merits of water instead of paper. The few times i have done it, i didnt like remaining wet. I could only speculate about which method is healthier. Both have potential for spreading germs.

32 Adam March 20, 2017 at 6:34 pm

Most public toilets in China don’t have toilet paper at all. You’re expected to always bring some with you in case you need it. This one is unusually luxurious.

33 Adrian March 20, 2017 at 7:57 pm

you win the thread

34 Some Guy March 20, 2017 at 8:42 pm

How much toilet paper saved is needed to justify the cost of this device?

35 RMM March 21, 2017 at 8:44 am

That’s a very good question, but we appear to be dealing with a government that places a greater weight in its cost benefit analysis to having publicly provided facilities available to all at zero marginal cost. With such a welfare function, it won’t take much paper saving to justify the cost of the machine. This is why these value systems bleed money until they die. There is no end to the “should haves.”

36 Joe$? March 20, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Japanese public (as in unrestricted access) restroom facilities used to have the bring-your-own system, but not now. In Thailand, most such place have a dispenser where you can buy a packet of paper. All convenience stores sell them too. Korea used to be like Japan used to be, but I haven’t been there since like 20 years, but my guess is they are doing what Japan is doing.

37 Jay March 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Solve for the equilibrium. “Free” tampons in public restrooms.

38 Boris_Badenoff March 21, 2017 at 12:00 am

Seems like a sh*tty policy.

The very funny “tragedy of the commodes” comment above notwithstanding, the whole public restroom scene, while differing from place to place, is a reasonable example. And while the situation in the USA has never been perfect, there is less respect than ever for the effect ill use of public facilities has on others.

39 kevin March 21, 2017 at 8:22 am

How is this excludeable? If they only exclude people who violate the rules, isn’t that the same as any other public good (since locked up criminals are excluded from using them)

40 RMM March 21, 2017 at 8:38 am

It’s a shame when even economists can’t distinguish between a public good and a publicly-provided private good.

As a profession we need to change the name of “public good” to something less confusing and manipulable, such as “shared good.”

The obvious solution to this problem is to charge for the toilet paper. The same technology that scans for a face or similar could easily use an electronic payment method.

41 whatsthat March 21, 2017 at 1:43 pm

just use bum spray…

42 Peldrigal March 22, 2017 at 11:10 am

Everytime we see someone from the USA failing to realize that first you use toilet paper, and then the bidet, actual laughter is produced.

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