Al Sweigart's tumblr

Short blog posts on my random ideas and thoughts.

Dec 19

The Bad Roommates Situation

I think this is a metaphor that could apply to a lot of social/economic dynamics:

You have a clean roommate and a messy roommate who live together. The messy roommate doesn’t mind a messy apartment or a clean apartment. The clean roommate doesn’t mind cleaning their own messes but does mind messy apartments and cleaning other people’s messes. The messy roommate does mind cleaning and hearing the clean roommate complain.

It takes effort for the clean roommate to clean the messes the messy roommate makes. One person pays the cost of cleaning, but both benefit from the clean apartment. However, the messy roommate doesn’t see this as a “benefit” (they don’t mind a mess) but they do see the “cost” of cleaning.

This isn’t quite the Tragedy of the Commons: the messy roommate honestly doesn’t mind messes and couldn’t care if clean roommate cleaned or not.

Each roommate considers the other to be a “bad roommate”. Aside from getting separate apartments, what is the “fair” agreement that should be reached? Should one accommodate the other? (The messy roommate by sharing in the cleaning, the clean roommate by not complaining about cleaning the other roommate’s messes.) UPDATE: Assume that hiring a cleaner and splitting the cost is just as odious to the messy roommate as sharing in cleaning duties.

UPDATE: Some more thoughts. This situation easily applies itself to software developer “code reviews”. You may have one developer who thinks code reviews are effective ways to prevent bugs, but one who thinks they’re a waste of time. The pro-review developer needs the other one to do the review, while the anti-review developer hates taking time to do something they think is ineffective.

I think one of the things that makes this situation so insidious is that it cannot be solved with the Golden Rule. Clean roommates would like the messy roommate to do unto them and clean their share, while the messy roommate would rather they both not complain about messes.