Tobis on the Lawnmower Dilemma

Michael Tobis models the lawnmower problem:

If you have a typical American house, you have a typical lawn in front of it, a lawn that is in need of occasional trimming. Unless you contract out for lawn services, you almost certainly own a lawnmower too. Most likely it has a cheesy, loud, polluting little engine.

You only use this for a half hour every other week, or 1/336 of the time. OK, you don’t want people mowing lawns at night, so say 1/168 of the available daylight time. So you and your 167 nearest neighbors own 168 times too many lawnmowers. If you could coordinate your lawnmowing, you would need to spend 1/168 as much on a lawnmower.


  1. You’ll need really punctual neighbours. There’s going to be landmark court cases over Jim-at-number-eleven taking 32.5 minutes to mow his slightly-smaller-than-regulation size lawn and throwing out the system for the rest of the day.

    Also, I hope the couple who get the 11:00 – 11:30 a.m. every other Tuesday slot don’t both have day jobs, since they have to mow the lawn then.

    Yes, I may have missed the more serious point of the article. Why do you ask? 🙂

  2. Modern America is a litigious culture. I would not touch Michael’s idea with a pair of ‘ eally long pruning shears’.

    What if my 48 neighbors and I got a call from #49’s lawyer saying his client had a serious accident and was rushed to the emergency room when the blade flew off and….you get the picture.

    Better mulch that idea, Michael.

    How about we let the grass grow and expand the CO2 sink surrounding our McMansions.

    John McCormick

  3. Sigh. Yes John, it was exactly that problem that prevented me from trying the idea when I lived in a suitable neighborhood in Wisconsin. I think there must be some way to draw up a suitable contract, but I wasn’t motivated enough to try to do it.

    In Texas it pays to rent a lawn mower once a month with a cheap laborer attached. I can’t do outdoor work in this climate anyway hlf the year.

    My actual point is that restoring the overheated economy to where it was before the financial crisis hit, and restoring its growth pattern too, implies that there really is a lot more capital investment that people want or need. As far as I can tell, there’s too much produced stuff just sitting around doing nothing, and that, as much as anything, is where the problem lies, never mind the fact that untouched open space is starting to be valuable in itself.

    It’s a tulip crisis writ large. Nobody wants any more tulips.

    Or McMansions. Or lawnmowers. We have enough stuff. Stoking up the manufacturing sector back to full production when the raw materials are worth more than the finished product, just to make the economists comfortable and the population busy, strikes me as beyond stupid and into crazy, but I guess maybe that’s just me.

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