Capitalism and The Office Microwave Revisited


A couple of years ago I wrote a post called “Capitalism and the office Microwave,” which read as follows:

While you may not realize it, if you work in a mid to large-sized office, you have been living in a Communist society. This is not to say that your daily job functions involve distributing copies of Pravda, or that you are working for free. From those readily available clothes you are wearing to that latte you had on your way into work, you spend the majority of your day enjoying the products of capitalism.

I’m talking about that 15-10 minutes of your day where you step from your office into the office break room. It is then that you drop behind the red curtain. For it is there that you encounter the office refrigerator and, that nemeses of the office manager, the office microwave.

Use of these items causes you to, perhaps unknowingly, enter into a communist collective of office property users. The microwave is owned by everyone, and everyone is supposed to use it as needed but keep it clean. Each takes according to their needs and gives according to their gifts. If everyone were diligent of leaving it as they found it, there would be no problem. Eventually though, someone cooks something uncovered, which spills or generally spreads food stuff all over the microwave, and then leaves without cleaning things up. This will probably happen over time, but as the microwave becomes dirtier more people will feel justified in not cleaning up after themselves.

At first there may be a few people who get sick of the conditions and clean up the mess, but if this continues, those people (and it’s always the same people) will get tired of always being the ones. There will be others who clean up their own messes, but don’t feel that they should need to clean up after others. Eventually those who did shoulder more than their share of the cleaning load will stop cleaning and get their own microwaves or find another way to leave the collective.

One would think that living in an area with managers or professionals would mean a cleaner microwave, but this is probably not the case. In fact, many of those who have attained stature may decide that cleaning up is below their status. They may feel that the use of the microwave without cleaning up is one of their perks. After all, they are very busy on important things.

At this point there becomes a rapidly increasing quantity of food on the walls and ceiling of the microwave, after which only the most die-hard of users will continue to use the microwave. Disease, famine, and death will follow.

This same scenario is right now playing out at offices around the country. It does not need to be this way, however. Capitalism, the process that built the great cities in America and brought prosperity to all of those who were willing to work for it can save even the office break room. Here’s how.

Place a jar on the counter with instructions that those who use the microwave or refrigerator should pay a cleaning fee. This can be a very small amount, perhaps 5-10 cents per day. You could also just put a jar with the notice that it is for “donations to keep the break area clean”. While the honor system will probably work for the collections, the cash raised should be kept with someone trustworthy in the office.

Each week, the amount raised should be posted in the break room next to the jar. A notice should also be included that states that whomever cleans up the microwave (or the refrigerator) will receive the collections.

As time passes and the microwave gets filthier, the cash amount will build. Some people, eager to get a clean microwave, may make extra donations. Eventually it will be enough, maybe $20 or $40, to entice someone to do the work and collect the proceeds. At that point the microwave gets cleaned, the person holding the money checks to make sure the job is done well, the worker is paid the reward, and the process starts again.

Eventually people may start cleaning the microwave sooner in order to claim the prize, so the price will drop and the frequency will increase. It may even become a game to see who can swoop in at the right moment to collect the money.

If instead of following the communist system, which will lead to substandard conditions, feelings of resentment, and eventual threats to get people to clean up, let the capitalist system work. Have people pay for the service of having the microwave cleaned and have someone collect a fair reward for doing the work. Everyone will be happy. Or you could continue with a system that has failed at offices across the country.

I actually tried this out in our office with the following results:

1.  I got a small amount of money in the jar at first.  Most donations were small (like pennies, mainly from office jokers).

2.  The microwave started getting dirty.  I started thinking that donations would start picking up as the filth level of the microwave increased and people would be more interested in a clean microwave than a pack of peanut butter crackers from the vending machines.  Right when I got to about 25 cents in the jar, an odd thing happened.  Someone went ahead and cleaned the microwave for free.

3.  This happened a few times, where just as the microwave started getting dirty and I thought donations would start pouring in because people wanted a clean microwave, someone would clean it gratis.  Eventually I gave up.

So I have learned that some people will  go ahead and clean the microwave for free if it starts getting bad.  I’m not sure how this works with communism.  Maybe someone will sweep the streets and grow food and do the other things that need to get done if things get bad enough and the amount of pay that would be received is very small anyway.  They will complain about it,and they probably won’t do as good a job with it as they would have if someone were paying them based on the quality of the service, but it will get done.

I guess do-gooders are the downfall of Capitalism.  Things appear to be looking up for Communism, at least from my experience in a moderately-sized office.  Maybe if you start in a Communist society, the people who tend to do the work anyway just keep on doing it.  Maybe the people who suck off society in a Communist system would be the same ones who drain society in a Capitalist society.  Or maybe in an office of people who are working, people are responsible enough to get things done and won’t let things get bad.

Has anyone else tried this experience?  What were your results?  Please try it and let me know.

Have a burning investing question you’d like answered? Please send to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

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