Dear Economist

The economics of urinal cakes

Dear Economist,
Whenever I go to the gentlemen’s toilet in a pub, I’m unsure how to behave. The question is: Should I urinate on the urinal cakes or not? At first, I think that if I urinate on them I’ll help to finish them earlier, thus making the publican purchase more of them, and helping the economy.
But then I think, while I’m urinating, that if the publican has to buy more tablets, eventually he will probably have to raise the price of the beer, to my huge disappointment. So the question is, where should I urinate in the gentlemen’s toilets in the pub?
Thank you,
Massimo J.
Dear Massimo,
When I read the first sentence of your letter, I was wondering where you were going with this. Not to worry: your question is easily answered. The 19th century French economist and essayist Frederic Bastiat anticipated it with his famous “broken window fallacy”. A broken window seems good for the economy because it creates work for the glazier. But Bastiat pointed out that the money that the window-owner pays to the glazier is money he can’t spend on something else. The glazier is richer, but the tailor or the restaurateur or the escort girl is poorer. The broken window hasn’t stimulated the economy at all.
In short, don’t think you’re doing anyone a favour by aiming squarely at the urinal cake in front of you. And don’t even think about aiming at the urinal cake in front of someone else.

First published in “Mens Health”

5th of March, 2011Dear Economist • Comments off