research institute for compassionate economics

Even in Green Park

Written by Dean Spears on September 9th, 2013

Last night Diane and I went walking in Green Park, an upscale neighborhood in south Delhi. In addition to Deer Park, its main market boasts fine dining at Evergreen, A2B, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, Domino’s, and other restaurants intermingled with fancy shops and a few too many cars. Conveniently located on the yellow Metro line, Green Park is a nice place to be.

So, it’s no surprise that housing prices are high there, and people are building where they can. With construction very often come short-term migrant construction workers. In many cases, such workers live difficult lives right on their worksites; Diane describes one population of migrant workers in a recent paper published in the Journal of Development Studies.

Despite their posh surroundings, these migrant construction workers do not have toilets. So, when they gotta go, they go outside. And last night, we saw the cheeriest little 3 or 4 year old boy conducting his business on the sidewalk by a main street, as an adult worker he knows gave him a friendly wave and hello from across the street. Perhaps adults go to the park in the early morning?

If you know one thing about open defecation, know that it makes people sick. If you know two things, know that it makes everybody sick, not just the people who do it. This is what economists call an externality, and it is a maker of a situation where people typically are not going to independently and spontaneously come to a good solution without public action.

I like to say that “open defecation is everybody’s business.” One thing I mean is that even children of the richest families in India are exposed to their neighbors’ open defecation. With more than half of the population defecating in the open, that is a lot of exposure. Nobody is fully safe.

Apparently, even in Green Park.