Are You Proud Of Your Clinic Fridge?



I stumbled upon some notes I had taken in … January 2005 after watching a TV show. The show was “John Stossel Takes on Myths” on 20/20.

Ten myths were exposed in classic Stossel style. The last one was “Sharing Would Make the World a Better Place.” How can this be a myth? How can sharing be a bad thing?

The first example given was about teenagers. Here is John Stossel, describing the experiment run by high school teacher Tori Haidinger:

“Each group of students gets a covered bowl of candies they must share. The teacher tells the kids, ‘Take as many as you want and then pass them on to the next kid. Any leftover will ‘multiply,’ just like fish, because the teacher will double them.”

What happens then?

“The bowls were emptied completely, because nobody shared.”

Then the teacher changed the rules and gave each student his or her own private bowl. She privatized the bowls. People sneer at the term privatization, but this time no one “overfishes.” Kids are careful to leave enough in their ponds and new generations of chocolate candies are born.

One of the students understands the lesson. "If it's ours, we will care more about it," she said.

What does this have to do with veterinary medicine? Everything, would John Stossel say.

The second example given was about African elephants.

“In many African countries, the elephants belong to everyone. Governments have outlawed killing them, but the vast plains are too big to police. So greedy poachers kill elephants and steal their tusks.

"It's a nice idea to say it's wrong to kill elephants. But that method has not worked." In Zambia, Uganda and Kenya, where elephant hunting is banned, the number of elephants has actually dropped dramatically—from 180,000 to 44,000—in the past four decades.”

So is there another solution?

“In Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, local villagers have a form of ownership rights. They have the right to sell hunting licenses for about $10,000 per elephant. And this permission to kill elephants is actually saving elephants.

It works because the villagers now say, “These are our elephants.” Even a former poacher now works to protect the elephants.

"The villagers have a profit motive to make sure that elephants don't get poached and killed. As a result, they take care of them. They don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

In these countries where villagers virtually own the elephants, elephant numbers have almost tripled—from 80,000 in 1960 to about 230,000 in 2000.

So while sharing may feel warm and fuzzy, it often makes things worse.
 
By contrast, private ownership makes the world better.

Other examples Stossel gives include:

• Public toilets. They typically are filthy and smelly. However, private toilets, which are common in Europe, are cleaner because their owners—who own them to make a profit—strive to keep them clean.
• Fishermen overfish the sea. “The ocean is public property, shared property. So for years, fishermen took all they could. They had little incentive to make sure enough fish were left to reproduce, and the supply of fish has dropped drastically.”
• You may relate to our last example. Stossel says: “The refrigerator where I work is disgusting—filled with food that's rotten. I found cottage cheese that was more than a year old. It's because it's shared property.”

Russell Roberts, professor of economics at George Mason University (Fairfax, Va.), explains that private property rarely gets damaged.

His explanation: “When something belongs to everyone, it belongs to no one. No one owns it. There's no incentive to take care of it. It gets abused and degraded.”

It’s a sad situation, but such is human nature. If you doubt it, then maybe you should check out your fridge at work.

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