An Allegory on PoO

ACE's Lamberty lampoons supporters of changing the point of obligation in this Grassroots Voice column from the April print issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Ron Lamberty | March 27, 2017

Once upon a time, in a land not far away and not so very different from our own, there lived many people who owned many, many dogs. Some had a small dog or a large dog, and others had several dogs in various combinations of sizes. As one might expect of a place with a burgeoning pet population, dog-originated waste had become a problem. While most people responsibly picked up after their pets, too many did not, and “poo-lution” had to be addressed.

The people of the land passed a law requiring all dog owners to clean up after their pets and prove they did so by filling specially designated bags with dog droppings, and periodically turning them in at the community compost pile. Pet owner obligation was based on estimated animal output according to dog size and population. Big dogs are bigger producers than small dogs, and owners of many dogs had to turn in more filled waste bags than those who had only one.

While some with large obligations complained and did little else, others saw financial opportunity in the new standard. People with little or no obligation started walking other owners’ dogs at discounted prices, and lawn care companies offered special rates for pet owners who let them sell extra filled doggie dropping bags. Both groups realized that if they cleaned up more than required by law, they could clean-up financially by selling their extra bags to dog owners who couldn’t or didn’t bother to clean up what they were supposed to clean up.

With so many folks going beyond the call of “doody,” dog “poo-lution” was virtually eliminated, the cost of several services dropped, and a source of cheap fertilizer was created by the program. In fact, the town was so clean, folks with large pet owner obligations began to complain loudly about their inability to obtain “approved” clean-up bags, and the cost of buying filled bags from those who cleaned up more than the law required.

One of the largest poo producers argued that since the dog walkers, lawn care companies and independent pooper-scoopers were making money from the program, they should be the ones responsible for cleaning up the mess and turning in the bags. He, and the other big dog owners, said there was no way for them to comply with the law after others took all the bags and picked everything up.

The people who started new businesses based on the opportunity presented by cleaning up the town pushed back, but big dog owners said it wasn’t fair that other people were getting discounted services at their expense, and they shouldn’t be expected to provide cheap fertilizer for the town. Others pointed out those with large obligations would pay nothing, if they merely cleaned up their own mess.
But the big dog owners prevailed. As a result, most small dog owners went back to walking (and cleaning up after) only their own dogs, and most of those who had recently started walking dogs, closed shop. Those who continued raised prices, required customers to pay the increased cost of the new clean-up obligation, and lost a lot of customers. Lawn service companies quit picking up dog droppings, did away with poo-funded discounts, and laid off workers to offset the loss of clean-up revenue. Meanwhile, big dog owners couldn’t find anyone to walk their dogs or clean their yard. In fact, townsfolk made sure to return ALL of the big dogs’ droppings… right to their owners’ yards.

The moral of the story: If you think people will appreciate having their opportunity turned into an obligation, you might end up full of… their opportunity.

Author: Ron Lamberty
Senior Vice President
American Coalition for Ethanol