Response to Camp W. on the Great Toilet Seat Debate

by robekulick

Since Camp is the first person to comment on my blog, I’ll respond to his post with a quick entry. If you view Camp’s comment, you’ll notice that he makes three interesting points to support his view that the “selfish” rule of toilet seat orientation is optimal.

Camp’s first point is about unisex bathrooms. In the context of male unisex bathrooms, I agree the toilet seat should always be left up, and since the inconvenience cost to women in the model developed in the paper would be zero and the probability that the next user is a man approaches 100 percent, the model would certainly agree with his sentiment. For women unfamiliar with men’s public restrooms, Camp’s point that men will actually pee on the seat if it is left down is completely valid and a huge problem. Actually a toilet seat that automatically rises like a movie theater seat may be optimal in that circumstance to adjust for the huge negative externality that people who pee on the seat impose on other users of the bathroom.

As to his second point, the economics of it are somewhat more complicated. Camp has basically told us that if his wonderful wife Vanessa leaves the seat down at night, he imposes a cost on her of a non-zero probability that he will proceed to pee on the seat. What’s interesting here is that if Camp is the one who is then obligated to clean up the mess, the cost of peeing on the seat falls uniquely on him. Since under this circumstance Vanessa’s utility is unaffected and Camp controls how he pees at night (he could choose to sit down to avoid mistakes) I think it still is the case that the down rule is optimal at night. On the other hand, if Camp imposes the cost of cleaning up after him on Vanessa, then Vanessa may just simply leave the seat up to avoid the hassle.  At this point all one can say is total utility will simply be determined subjectively by Camp’s enjoyment of winning the argument weighed against Vanessa’s anger. Again my experience with women suggests to me that as an empirical point, the maxim a “happy wife makes for a happy life” is true, and in the end the down rule wins at night. Of course, this whole story would become far more complicated if we allow for Coaseian bargaining but I think for practical purposes we’ll just ignore that for now.

Finally, Camp’s point about the party circumstance is actually one I thought about too last night, but didn’t address. Obviously all of this analysis up to this point has involved a model where a house is always occupied by one woman and one man. Camp is certainly right that men drink more and are way less polite at parties. A toilet seat up rule may then be better for everyone under those circumstances.

Finally, an argument that may be of interest to Camp as a doctor and that favors his side in the night debate is actually made in a footnote of the paper. As men age, problems with their prostates make nighttime urination more frequent. So the probability of a man using the bathroom actually increases at night complicating the analysis.