Acton Institute Powerblog

Recycled Laziness

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I know there are some economic arguments against recycling, at least some forms of it. Many of these seem to be based on the fact that there’s no real profit margin, so proponents have to either engage the coercive power of government to get people to recycle (by charging them a fee or by offering city services) or people have to simply donate their recycle-ables gratis.

But one “economic” argument I’ve never understood is the on that goes like this: it’s not worth my time. After all, I get paid $X per hour, and I’m not getting paid at all to recycle. Why waste the time doing something for free? One economist puts it like this: “as one of the great one-liners of economics goes: ‘Recycling is the philosophy that everything is worth saving except your time.'”

And so, “Why don’t we recycle in our house? Because our time is worth more than a pile of newspaper.” Other economists have made similar arguments against volunteering, to which I’m a bit more sympathetic, at least insofar as it isn’t always a better use of time to volunteer.

But c’mon, “our time is worth more than a pile of newspaper”? That sounds more like rationalizing laziness than true economic sensibility. I understand the concept of opportunity costs, but it isn’t as if you are making your standard wage 24/7/365.

My time is worth more than a pile of dirt, too, but that doesn’t mean my house doesn’t need to be cleaned. Just because the negative externalities of throwing your trash into a public dump aren’t visible doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to manage your waste.

And don’t tell me there aren’t good economic arguments in favor of recycling, too. Take a look at the legacy of Ken Hendricks, a high school dropout and an entrepreneur who made a fortune in the building materials business. He passed away late last year, and during his life “Hendricks loathed waste and dedicated his life to recycling and rehabilitation in all their forms. He resuscitated decaying buildings, directly through the millions of square feet he personally owned and indirectly through the hundreds of millions of square feet restored by his customers.”

Maybe Prof. Anthony Bradley can help me out

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

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