I guess like most people I goof off a bit (perhaps a bit too much) during the day. Between reading blogs, the NY Times, baseball stuff ect., I take breaks throughout the day. However, over the last two days I hardly took any. What changed was I was in Madison Wisconsin jump starting a project on fair trade coffee. With my former Ph.D. advisor and a grad student, we transformed a data set to get some summary statistics and started formulating ideas for future papers. To transform the data the grad student and I sat side by side working on two computers editing different parts of the data. She helped me with some Spanish and we helped each other with coding issues. Sitting right next to each other though I didn’t want to shift from having STATA (my data program up) to the NY Times or my e-mail because she was working hard and that would not be fare. I talked to her about this result and she felt the same.
This is a classic economic example of a common good. Often when people work together on a project that all will share in the results, people do not work as hard. You probably know this if you did a group project in school. Not working as hard as you could in economics is called shirking. One way to prevent shirking is to monitor behavior and another way is to feel a sense of duty to the group, which usually comes out of repeated interaction.
This is clearly a common good, since we both can use the data once it is together. Monitoring in this case was easy since both of our screens were in view of the other and I have known and been friends with the grad student for almost 6 years.
Perhaps I should have brought her back to California this summer so I can keep up working hard on the other hand I do enjoying shirking.