Imagine, just for a moment, that you live in an apartment building that offers a special lunch deal. Every morning the landlords put out a tray of 100 sandwiches for their tenants. They're darn good sandwiches -- each one costs $10 to make. Yet the landlords offer a discount, so that hungry tenants can buy a sandwich for just $3. If you don't want a sandwich, you don't pay anything. But if you do want a sandwich, you get a bargain! Neat, right? [...]
The economics of this crazy system quickly spiral out of control. The landlords lose $7 per day on each of the 60 sandwiches they sell. And they also lose $10 on each of the 40 sandwiches that go to waste. That adds up to $820 in losses on sandwiches each day. Spreading those losses across 80 tenants, the building will need to recoup $300 per month from each tenant just to break even on its below-cost sandwich giveaway. [...]
In fact, she finds, most local governments require building owners to prepare expensive sandwiches for their tenants. Some local rules only call for two sandwiches for every three tenants, others require one sandwich per tenant, and some actually require two sandwiches for every tenant. Moving to a different building could mean paying a little more than $10 a day for unwanted sandwiches, or maybe a little less. But no matter where you live, you'll still pay for sandwiches you don't eat.
This is why we can't have nice cities.