Chocolate and Gold Coins

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Security System

A fellow came by our house yesterday “giving away” security systems. He explained the rationale for giving these away at zero cost:

“We know that if half of the families have our security system, the other half will want to pay to have it installed in their homes. So this works out to be a really good deal for you.”

Now let's consider this a moment. Half of the neighborhood have security systems installed and have little signs placed in their yards saying, in effect, “Please rob our neighbor’s house.” Now the neighbors find that they are at increased risk of being burglarized, so they install security systems in their homes as well. The curious thing is that the security system might, in fact, do very little to reduce crime in the neighborhood; it might just spread it to others, and each person winds up paying for something that, in the aggregate, does no good. But being selfish individuals, we think, “I don’t want my house burglarized, so I’m getting one of those systems installed. If my neighbors don’t want to pay for security, it’s their problem.”

But there was another catch to the whole deal, (there always is): we had to buy a three-year contract for monitoring. That three-year contract will cover the cost of installing the system and make a nice profit to the company. We probably should have trusted our instincts and told the salesman that we were not interested, but when it comes to security, my wife can easily get talked into things, and I can be talked into anything.

This last point reminds me of a funny anecdote. I am such a sucker for sales pitches that I used to say to telephone salesman, “We’re not interested,” as soon as I found out that they were trying to sell us something, (we are on a do-not-call list now). My son, who was four, once picked up the phone. I asked him who it was. He just listened a moment and said, “We’re not interested,” and hung up. I hope it wasn’t Grandma.


  • What you've described is a well known phenomenon in risk/threat assessment circles: instead of being reduced, risk is just transferred to another location.

    A related example: if you increase surveillance in planes and at airports, you transfer risk to trains and train stations. Now if you increase security there, risk goes to some other place.. maybe shopping malls...

    Those responsible for addressing threats should be watchful for this phenomena. But are they? Like you (and everyone else, lately) found out, they rarely are.

    By Anonymous deepak, at 7:42 AM  

  • Hi Deepak
    I think it is an interesting issue. A socially beneficial security system would catch criminal instead of sending them to others' homes. But people wouldn't be interested in catching the criminals - they don't want them anywhere near their homes.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 12:05 PM  

  • Security, Insurance - these are some of the things you dont have much arguments against - even though you know you dont need it.

    By Blogger Squared, at 10:54 PM  

  • The police force is there for a reason.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:31 PM  

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