Economics and Unintended Consequences

Facebook worker living in garage to Zuckerberg: challenges are right outside your door

This passage stood out:

The smaller indignities are numerous. At the end of every shift, Nicole watches large amounts of leftover food go into the compost – food she’s not allowed to take home.

If the food is uneaten, who cares if they take it home?

Economics is all about incentives, and incentives can lead to unintended consequences. Allowing employees to take home unused food creates an incentive to not have food consumed. The unintended consequence is that more food is produced than is consumed, hence food costs go up. This is similar to the ‘cobra effect‘ (although another version of the story uses rat tails).

From the comments:

We used to allow employees to take home any food left over at the end of the day. Worked great for about 4 months. Then the food cost started creeping up, then it nearly exploded. Seems that the late shift discovered that if they simply made a lot of food right before closing they could take it home so it wouldn’t be “wasted”. You know it has gotten bad when people are starting to argue about who gets to work the closing shift.
Does everyone do this? No. Do enough people do it to force these sorts of rules to be put in place? Yes.

It’s counterintuitive how throwing away food saves money, but it does.