My university uses thin brown paper towels in all bathrooms. They cost less than white paper towels. My student claims that the opportunity cost of student and faculty time in extra hand-wiping because the brown towels absorb so little moisture means that the social cost of brown towels exceeds those of white ones. (I sympathize—my practice on this is take towel, rub, then finish drying hands on jeans!) This makes sense to me—with a captive group of users, the university is minimizing its private cost, not social cost.
Another student, an Iraq veteran, writes that the armor on the vehicles he rode in was too thin to offer proper protection to soldiers, government behavior that he claims is similar to that of the university—in this case, undervaluing its soldiers’ lives. This seems less logical—surely the U.S. Army is greatly interested in protecting its soldiers and is willing to incur huge costs in doing so. I hope/pray that my soldier-student is wrong. (HT: JC.)