Over the summer, my reading list consisted of about 10 books. By the time I returned to school, I had finished three of them, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” counting twice. The other book I read was “More Sex is Safer Sex,” by UR’s very own Professor Steven Landsburg. The book is focused on a collection of ideas, some of which we college students care about, like how more sex can lead to safer sex, and also on subjects most don’t care about, like repairing the government. The book, through its analysis of these subjects, is more of a manifesto on how to think than an argument in specific areas.
Throughout the book, Landsburg uses cost-benefit analysis to prove his points. I took a long, hot, thoughtful shower while pondering the book, and my mind wandered to a more important topic: I’ve come out to the Fraternity Quad on campus this semester and realized that security, while it’s been claimed that they have always been so strict, was cracking down on Orientation parties.
At first, all I thought of was how unfortunate it was that the freshmen would not get to party it up during what was one of the best weeks of my life, only last year. After a bit more pruning, I came to realize how foolish the new policy actually is, and I owe all of this to Professor Landsburg.
The underlying theme of cost-benefit analysis is that if the benefits of something outweigh the costs, then that something is probably good. Older, wizened men and women are now thinking: where could the benefits possibly be in a bunch of college students going out, getting sick, trading fluids and destroying brain cells? There are two answers to this question, and both are correct.
The first you can get from any college student when you ask why he or she goes out and drinks: “It’s awesome” or “It’s a good time” would be the essence of most answers.
Another answer would come from a deeper look. Like most other things in this world, one can put a monetary value on the benefit to a single UR student of getting drunk. If I’m going to go out and get drunk, it’s going to cost me.
On an average night at a bar, the frats, or somewhere else – if I’m lucky – I’d say that cost would be about 25 bucks. Add to that the cost of a hangover, or rather the opportunity cost of not doing anything the next day, the extra calories and the time it takes to get drunk on a weekend night, and I’d say the cost is even higher; but, for argument’s sake, the number I will use as equal to the cost of drinking for an average UR student is $25. This also happens to be the minimum total benefit for each individual student, for no student would drink if the benefits were less than the costs.
According to U.S. News and World Report, there are 4,904 undergraduate students at this university. Assuming that about 1,500 of the students drink on a weekend night, the total benefit of drinking to the student body is $37,500.
Now, most of the time, one won’t entirely feel the consequences of getting drunk. For many, there’s a chance that you will get too drunk, and that will cost you extra. Sometimes that extra will be in an ambulance bill, or maybe it’s in sleeping with someone you know you shouldn’t have. However, I think it unlikely at best that the total costs of one night will equal anything close to $40,000.
Also, I should note that this freshman class is one of the largest this school has seen. If Orientation is such an important factor in someone’s decision to attend the school, and if Orientation was so “alcohol-filled” last year, then maybe students are missing out on a large reason why they came to this school. Perhaps we should just pay attention to the number of freshmen that transfer this year, and we’ll see if this new policy did its job.
While most students won’t feel the entire costs of their drinking, it seems a bit ignorant to impose restrictions when the numbers come out so close. But then again, maybe I’m the ignorant one.
Epstein is a member of the class of 2010.