Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Externalities of Municipal Utilities

Someone is stealing Baltimore's aluminum. Light posts, that is.

Some econ inspired questions:

How long until Baltimore starts using wooden poles again? Aluminum obviously has a more highly valued use.
1. Would stiffer penalties for stealing publicly owned infrastructure deter these crimes? The current interest rate on crime is obviously too low.
2. Is the activity gang-related? Is this a lower-risk revenue source than selling drugs? Would legalizing drugs increase/decrease the number of poles stolen?!?
3. What is the lag time for decision makers to stop using aluminum and employing some alternative? What are the net welfare losses?
4. What alternative materials might be more cost-effective?
5. Would it be cheaper to just fill the light-posts with concrete to deter theft?
6. What if a monitoring device were attached randomly to various poles? How many devices would be required to insure eventual detection (statistically)?
7. What are the chances that the city of Baltimore hasn't considered #'s 1-6 above, and will propose bigger municipal government as the only solution?

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