Freeriding and the PTA
A long time ago the PTA at my kids' elementary school did a lovely job of planting bushes and flowers in front of the school. We paid our PTA dues, but that's it. By the usual definition of "freerider" I seem to be one--I received the benefit of the planting, but didn't fully pay for it, since I did none of the labor. My reasons for not helping seem to acquit me, though, which goes to show that "freerider" isn't automatically pejorative. A "freerider" is not necessarily a freeloader, a moocher, a cheat. There are innocent freeriders and guilty freeriders.
So, my reasons. I benefited from the flowers, but really just by accident. I couldn't help but pass by them when taking my kids to school. I can't say that I wanted to see them planted, beyond a casual "that's nice." I wasn't doing so little to help because others were doing so much. Had they done less, so there would have been no flowers, I would have done just as little. To be a bad freerider, I have to (a) benefit from a public good without fully paying but I also have to (b) endorse the good--care about it, want it, as opposed to merely receiving it. There are some things we all must be presumed to care about -- clean air, good health, etc. -- but flowers aren't among those things. I can't be accused of self-deception if I say I didn't care (much) about the flowers.
Suppose I had really cared about the flowers but lots of people wanted to plant them. In that case, my contribution would have been gratuitious or worse. I would have been in the way, or might have crowded out another eager worker. To be a bad freerider, I'd have to meet conditions (a) and (b) but also something like (c): I could contribute without excluding those for whom helping is a privilege (assuming for me it's not).
Then we need a condition having to do with self-harm. A bad freerider meets conditions (a), (b), (c) and also (d): I could contribute without causing excessive harm to myself or others. Of course, I might have a slightly aching back afterwards, and my child might be slightly less happy during my absence. But I'm excused if helping is going to mean having a heart attack or abandoning my sick child, or what have you.
Again, never mind vaccination. I'm pondering, for the moment, whether this is a good enough definition of "bad freerider" for purposes of deciding when you have to participate in PTA activities and when you don't.
Labels: ethics, PTA, vaccination
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