Applying Economics to Open Resources

Yesterday I needed to get a simple task done: scan a piece of paper so that I could email it to someone. Simple enough, as there is a scanner available for use in the grad lab. When I arrived, the lights were turned off and the lab vacant. Walking up to the machine with the scanner attached, I was surprised to see that the screen was locked. This annoys me to no end, and got me thinking about the thought processes of people when they choose open resources. Economics tells us that scarce resources are more valuable. The problem with this is the hoarding of resources - obviously the person who locked the computer was not using the unique resource attached to it, but if economics guided his decision would this be the correct answer? I would like to think not - it is far more valuable to use identical resources which were available (other M$ computers) while leaving that resource available for use by others. This seems to reverse the normal economic idea - you should use the resource which is the most abundant which suits your needs, allowing the scarce resources available to be used by others.


As it turns out, the user of this locked computer had left the computer locked for a considerable length of time. I left at 9, returned at 11, and returned again at 1 and there was no sign that it had even been used. I got tired of waiting and rebooted the computer, which I justified by the fact that you’re not supposed to lock computers for long times in the grad lab. This particular student I do know, and he has taken some of the exaggerations about grad school a little too far - I’m pretty sure he sleeps in the building most nights, which just shouldn’t be done IMHO.