By Liam Kolling
Note: This piece was originally written for an Introduction to Economics class to address the economic issues behind the problem of trash on the Sonoma Academy campus.
A rose is a rose is a rose until thousands of poems are written about them. The rose is no longer thought of as simply a flower; it now resembles love, lust, and passion. Similarly, the trash at Sonoma Academy was previously thought of as simply garbage that was inherent to any high school campus, yet that perception is quickly changing.
This change, prompted by a series of emails and discussions, does not necessarily directly correlate to less trash on the campus. I collected data from students and faculty alike and applied components of economics to the point of tension.
Luxury goods, externalities, and misaligned incentives are the big economic concepts found in SA’s “garbage problem.” Derice Hogle, the Director of Finance and Operations at Sonoma Academy said, “When SA was a startup there was a lot of stress. Things now aren’t completely secure, but much more comfortable.”
Sonoma Academy’s admission has grown every year, the budget gets larger each year, and each Big Night Out (SA’s annual fundraising event) brings in more money than the last. Caring about trash is a luxury good. Luxury goods are services that are not considered essential and are associated with wealth.
The main reason our school’s administration cares is because now they can afford to focus on the small issues because they are confident the school will stay afloat. In fact, many seniors testify that there is no more trash on campus than there was their freshman year.
Externalities, which are when an authority figure monitors a transaction, are another large part of this predicament. Parents pack lunches for kids and kids eat them; that is a good relationship. Vending machine operators provide substance to students for a small cost; that is also a situation where both parties are benefitted.
Dean of Students Stacy Cohen is trying to monitor the externality that occurs in this transaction. Yet, does she really have to? The trash on campus isn’t actually hurting people, and the evidence shows that students aren’t actually noticing the litter. If the relationship as of now has little harm for the overall population, then there is no reason to change it.
Misaligned incentives, which are when different people want different things, are the last main aspect of the economics surrounding trash. The students have a different agenda than Stacy, and because of this these two parties do not see eye to eye on this subject. Stacy said, “All leaders will be put on a calendar rotation to survey the campus and remind classmates to clean up.”
In response, senior Henry Kwok said “I do not come to school here to pick up after a bunch of children. I attend for the great education, fantastic staff/faculty relationships with students, infinite opportunities, and the tight community.”
Stacy simply wishes for a cleaner campus coupled with a great education, and the students just want to attend school. The fact that these two parties want two different things results in the actual task not getting done as well as Stacy imagined it.
In conclusion, the conventional wisdom behind this topic should be that there is trash at Sonoma Academy, not necessarily that it is a problem.