Saturday, June 12

How many garbagemen does it take to change a lightbulb?

Missoula, Montana is a bit of a weird place in terms of its economics.

The city seems to lack an understanding of the concept of "diminishing marginal product of labour." It's the idea that each additional worker a business takes on will be less productive than the last.

This makes sense. If I run a pizza shop, I'm not going to be able to do anything with zero workers. The benefit from my first worker is huge — I'll be able to produce pizzas. The benefit from my second worker is still pretty big — now I can do delivery instead of just take-out — but it's not as exciting as adding my first worker. My third worker will allow me to take on more business, but as I start adding a fourth and fifth worker, they'll probably contribute a little less since they'll mostly be standing around except when the shop is really busy. By the time I start adding a sixth and seventh worker, my pizza parlor is probably getting crowded and they might even slow things down.

 You can imagine, then, my surprise to see this scene on the streets of Missoula:


Count them. There are five yellow-vested people, all within the same quarter of a block, picking up garbage. The inefficiency of this picture makes me shudder. Sure, one person picking up garbage makes sense. Two on the same block might help keep each other motivated and ensure no spots are missed. But three? Or four? Heck, the fifth guy on the left doesn't look like he's even attempting to pick up garbage — the other four haven't left anything for him to clean.

It goes without saying that downtown Missoula was surprisingly clean. But I'll bet they could lay off half their street cleaners and it would still be spick and span — at half the cost.