Human nature and the purchase of a television set

Back in college (pre Internet days) I was rooming with 5 other guys and we were discussing the purchase of a TV. We did the math and found that, rather than rent a TV over the course of the school year, it would be cheaper to pool our money and buy one. It seemed so simple, but it wasn’t. I’m sure you can guess the question that invariably came next—Who gets to keep the TV in the end? We almost went with a rental because it seems most people would rather spend more money and give it away to total strangers than to see a friend end up “ahead” in the end. It boggled my mind, but this strong opinion seems nearly universal.

The solution to that problem was simple. At the end of the year we would sell the TV and split the money 6 ways. But, it wasn’t that simple. What if only 5 people are willing to put in money toward a 6-person venture? The 6th guy said he wouldn’t use it so he didn’t want to pay. Again, there was a strong emotion tied to the fact that he MIGHT use it, and end up freeloading off the other 5 guys. Again, our plans to purchase a TV were stalled.

The unexpected solution came in the form of a generous sister who visited one of my roommates. She saw we were in need of a TV and gave one to her brother as a gift. Problem solved. Or so it seemed.

You might wonder what happened to the 6th roommate who had said he didn’t want to pay because he wouldn’t be using the TV. He really WAS a freeloader. He and the remote were inseparable companions, and the rest of us were lucky to ever watch anything without his approval. Human selfishness has a way of hindering the best laid plans.

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