Toilet explorations

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As part of my on-going commitment to keep you up to date with the latest urinal and toileting thinking, I have to report today to this Dear Economist quandary posed to Tim Harford:

When I travel I am faced with a difficult choice: which of the toilet booths to use in offices or hotels. I always try to guess which one is the least used.

Harford responds by appealing to the efficient markets hypothesis that suggests that there will be an equilibrium whereby all toilets will on average be equally clean. Of course, this equally suggests that there is nothing special about traveling: toilets will be on average equally clean at your own office too. Note that with a sufficient amount of use this will be true even if there are toilet choosing biases of the form Harford speaks about. After all, it takes a number of rational choosers to balance this out.

What he hints at but fails to see the gravity of is the insufficient incentives for people to investigate toilet cleanliness and the potential externality poses by dirty toilets being even occasionally overused. Anyhow, as ever, the issues here have not been fully worked out — certainly by hard nosed academic researchers. (Yes I intended the pun!) May be a good opportunity for someone to signal their lack of interest in Harvard.

4 Responses to "Toilet explorations"
  1. There are usually two variables at play when choosing a cubicle/urinal. One is cleanliness, but more important is to be as far away as possible from anyone else.
    Similar problem when picking checkout queues at the supermarkets. Variable one is the length of the queue. Variable two is the hotness of the checkout chick.

  2. I’ve actually found that not all toilets are equal. I’ve generally found that public (government run toilets) toilets such as the ones in parks and on city streets tend to be less well kept as opposed to privately owned toilets such as those in shopping centres.
    I suspect that this is due to incentives. To take the shopping centre example, the centre management will have an incentive to keep it clean as it will make the place more pleasant to shop. This will mean that there will be more shoppers, thus allowing the centre to charge higher rental fees.
    The cleaners of the public toilets don’t have this incentive.

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