Veritas

by Don Boudreaux on March 15, 2005

in Inequality

I’ve read several reports – for example, here – of the discomfort suffered by several Harvard students because sophomore Michael Kopko is selling maid service to Harvard dorm residents.

These reports mostly all quote Harvard’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, as opining

By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity…. We urge the student body to boycott Dormaid [the name of Kopko’s company].

But my favorite quotation from the Crimson opinion is this:

The egalitarian nature of dorm life helps to foster a sense of collegiate camaraderie, an unadulterated respect for peers; it generates a level playing field that encourages learning between people of all upbringings. A service like Dormaid can bring many levels of awkwardness into this picture. For example, do two people sharing a double split the cost? What if one wants the service and the other does not? What if one cannot afford it? Hiring someone to clean dorm rooms is a convenience, but it is also an obvious display of wealth that would establish a perceived, if unspoken, barrier between students of different economic means.

Here’s the whole Crimson opinion.

This episode is too typical. An enterprising soul perceives a need and creatively offers a product or service — at his own financial risk — to satisfy that need. Everything is voluntary. No one is forced to buy the service; no one is forced to work for it. But well-read ignoramuses, infatuated with their own imaginary higher capacity for caring for others, viscerally react against commercial exchange. In this case, those opposed to Dormaid worry that because some but not all students will find it worthwhile to buy maid service, "inequality" among the Harvard student body will increase.

Is the typical Harvard student so immature that he suffers envy when some of his fellow students buy maid service that he chooses not to buy? (Bonus question for economics students: Why did I say "that he chooses not to buy?" rather than "that he can’t afford?")  Is he so sensitive, so very, very tender, that he loses emotional stability at the sight of a friend’s dorm room freshly cleaned by maids?  Is he so intellectually and socially inept that he can’t work out an amicable arrangement with his roommate if one wants to use Dormaid and the other prefers not to do so?

I have a suggestion for those who worry that Dormaid will create a larger "differential between the haves and have-nots on campus" – rather than bitch and moan, start your own maid service. And offer it free of charge, so that your concern for Harvard’s have-nots will be expressed in a way much more meaningful than mere words.  Otherwise, go back to your Plato or Habermas and let Mr. Kopko go about his business in peace.

(Unrelated question: how many "have-not" students are enrolled in Harvard? Just curious.)

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