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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: The Stool Pigeon

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Stool Pigeon

Wendy McElroy, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, shares my concern about the use of radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) being used to track a person’s recycling (“Big Brother Is Watching You Recycle”).  Cleveland, Ohio, is following the British example by distributing 25,000 RFID outfitted garbage bins.  The justification is a cleaner environment through recycling, but this logic is flawed—the cost to recycle exceeds the value of the recycled material for any reasonable value of labor.(1)  City managers are not concerned with the off budget value of our time.  They see our work as free labor, and as soon as fines are applied for noncompliance, their free labor becomes our forced labor.

McElroy concludes that cities are “in it for the money” based on Cleveland’s target of issuing 4,000 citations this year.  The RFIDs make noncompliance easier to detect.  I wonder what next year’s target will be.  

As bad as trash monitoring is, city managers’ intrusions will grow more bold.  From their perspective, they are wasting an opportunity for additional revenue enhancement.  Americans are too fat.  We also use too many drugs, both legal and illegal.  Our life styles drive up the government’s cost of our medical care.  Cities could install RFIDs into each household connected to the sewer system.  Equipped with chips to measure fat, sugar, salt, and drug use these chips could incentivize Americans with fines to lead healthier lives and increase revenues to our cities.  I propose that these chips be called stool pigeons, and the electronic information based citations, stool-Es. (1)  Hilary Benn, the UK’s Environment secretary noted that aluminum cans are worth $782 per ton.  If the average household member earns $20 per hour and is able to recycle a .5 ounce can every 5 seconds, the curbside cost of a ton of aluminum valued at $782 is $1,778.  This does not include the city’s cost to transport and sell the aluminum.


  1. Johnathan Gidney15/12/10 8:32 PM

    I disagree, It's up to the people to want to recycle. America is a free country where we have to the right to make our own decisions. We have no priavcy if they track what we are doing. If this goes into effect we will have even less rights.

  2. Corey Castillo15/12/10 11:12 PM

    Seems to me that its just another way for the government to try and control us. We have been brought up to believe that recycling is the best way to protect the environment. I think people should stop trying to hammer personal beliefs into our heads. We should be trusted to make our own decisions. If we believe recycling is more harmful than beneficial then we shouldn't be forced to do something we do not believe in.

  3. I think that the big brother style of monitoring a cities recycling program is just the beginning of ways that we will see our government trying to control our daily lives. The only true privacy we have as it is, is the day to day operations of our house holds. Soon enough, the government will come up with all sorts of creative ways to intrude on that as well. They justify it as looking out for our own good. As in the case of recycling. We are told that it is best for the envi0rment, therefore this city is forcing it's residents to do it. So, next we will be told that drinking a certain flavor of kool aid is best for us. Then the government may feel that it is "best" to force us to comply. Are we or our we not still a free country?