Ever since I first heard Clay Shirky talk about the cost of damage and the cost of repair, I have been very taken with the idea. I believe he was talking about Wikipedia at the time. The more I think about it, anything that is a commons will have this tendency to retain and increase value, as long as the cost of repair is kept at least as low as the cost of damage.
I started kicking it around in other contexts and the answer seemed to come out the same. It made me understand more about urban graffiti and about vandalism. Then, more recently, I saw this article, about chewing gum. So it costs 3p to buy a piece of chewing gum and 10p to clean up after it.
And it made me think. Wouldn’t that look a little unfair to a non-chewer? The chewer gets the benefit, the manufacturer makes the profit, and the taxpayer foots the bill.
Maybe it’s time for some radical solutions. Maybe we could try something else. If a good for sale is capable of damaging “the commons” then maybe we should measure the cost of repairing that damage. If that cost exceeds the cost of damage, then we raise a tax on the good until the cost of damage is higher than the cost of repair. Half the tax is payable by the manufacturer, half by the consumer. The taxes so collected are then used to do the repairing.
Permanent marker pens. Chewing gum. Maybe even anything that comes in packaging that people tend to throw away.
Just a thought.