Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Capitalism and the Public Restroom

In mankind’s history of existence, our experience with capitalism can be seen as a relatively recent experiment. Though some economists trace elements of capitalism back to the Roman Empire, modern capitalism based on merchantilism spawned after the 16th century. While I view the benefits of capitalism to be far superior to other economic schools, I cannot deny the negative occurrences that do result from this system. While one of the drawbacks of capitalism is its propensity for the creation of asset bubbles (tulip bulb mania, Internet stocks and recently housing), in my view, one of the most offensive externalities is the perpetuation of fundamentally useless products. Examples of these frivolous goods include such marvels as the Flowbee, clothing for dogs and the tanning bed. Though I thought I had seen it all, nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed yesterday…

Having squandered the majority of my adult life as a cog in the capitalist machine, I have spent a significant amount of time working in office buildings. Within this setting, I have spent the most of my quality time in the restrooms of these structures. While many have proffered that one can tell the most about a person’s character by how they react in times of crisis, I strongly feel that more can be gleaned about an individual by their behavior in an office restroom. In addition to being able to develop an insight into the hygienic practices of an individual, say who goes from the “dumper to the door” and who washes their hands, in my view, lifestyle decisions related to health and diet can also be garnered through simple auditory analysis.

As I entered the office restroom yesterday for a routine visit, I was immediately taken aback by new additions decorating the restroom floor: urinal mats. While I consider myself to be well-traveled with respect to restroom visitation, to my recollection, this was my first encounter with the mats.

My head filled with confusion as I slowly approached the urinal. As observed by the picture below, I was not the only one confused as the directional placement of the mat demonstrates inconsistency. The mat was also set out from the base of the urinal leaving uncertainty as to whether it was for standing or not. While I feel it important to boast that I am quite comfortable with my accuracy within a foot, I quickly surmised that a receptacle for errant urine was not a suitable place for standing. I successfully conducted my business, washed my hands and left.

After my maiden urinal mat encounter, my head filled with questions. I had not been this perplexed since the first time I tried to recycle my plate, utensils and food scraps at Whole Foods. I needed answers and I needed them now so I consulted the Beacon of All Truths (a.k.a. the Internet). As a matter of bias, I am usually drawn to the domain name that I find the most germane to my search. With this, I quickly directed myself to Once at the site, I was quickly introduced to the complete WizKid line of products for the urinal and the commode. Navigating to the About Urinal Mat page, many of my questions began to be answered. While I will never be able to rationalize the need for a vessel to preserve urinary remnants, the page boasts that the WizKid is the “only urinal mat that makes sense.” This statement helped to calm me and provided satisfaction that going forward I may actually be the beneficiary of sensible urinary practices in my office restroom. Reading further, my bewilderment turned to inspiration as I realized that the prudent use of a urinal mat was based on scientific observation:

We discovered that when the WizKid is in place customers are more likely to stay docked until the procedure is finished and more inclined to assist in keeping the restroom clean.

Getting back to how I draw inferences from others from their bathroom habits, I never even considered the rudeness of the bathroomgoer that deliberately engages in premature undocking practices prior to completion of the procedure. Selfish bastards!!!

So is the urinal mat another useless product line and another negative externality of our capitalistic system? Is the WizKid, much like soap-on-a-rope; a product marketed more on name rather than an innovation based on science? While the answer remains, its acceptance in our economic system will ultimately be guided by what Adam Smith in his classic book The Wealth of Nations referred to as the “invisible hand of the market.” At least with the WizKid, while the invisible hand sorts this out, the other hand need not be pressured to assist with perfect urinal aim.


John said...

Are you supposed to pee into the water in the urinal or onto the sidewall? Sitting there in the stall I hear people do both. What does that say about a person? Maybe you can comment on this later Mike.

Mike said...

John, in my experience if you are boastful about the strength of your urine stream and what that might represent to others, you would generally pronounce this by using the water. Those more timid are likely to defer to the sidewall.

Thanks for reading!

fionula's revenge said...

Being a woman and having never used a urinal, it appears that precise docking on the mat could create a precarious position of one's body and balance...possibly resulting in a slip and increased body contact with said mat and its bits? No? I will be curious to know your 1 month assessment of this item. Until then, be well, aim high.

Wayne said...

I haven't encountered Adam Smith's "invisible hand" in such facilities, so I'm not sure it can help with the aiming problem apparently faced by some.

But, I have seen the "fly" decal, mostly on the flushless variety.

Here's a pic:

Mike said...


Interesting. While I like the challenge, I wonder why a fly? Hmmm.

Wayne Seltzer said...

Why a fly? Well, a decal of a wolverine or a cobra might be intimidating and lead to even worse aim, I suppose.