South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
The Cost of Graffiti Rises for Property Owners and Artists Alike
Subject Opportunity Cost
Topic Scarcity, Choice, and Opportunity Cost
Key Words Costs, Social Costs, Property Values, Penalties, Fine
News Story

Almost every city in the country has a graffiti problem. The typical "graffer" is a white male, often from an affluent neighborhood, who gets kicks from dodging the police or creating art. Graffers often stay in touch through the internet, posting pictures of their work.

Although some see their graffiti as art, the cover up or scrub off costs are estimated at $15 billion a year. In addition, there are social costs caused by graffiti scaring away shoppers and residents, leading to lower property values, and more serious crime. Some cities have banned the sale of spray paint to minors. Likely targets can be protected with a wax-like coating that makes it difficult for paint to adhere, or with razorwire to deter graffers. In Milwaukee, building owners have to clean graffiti off within ten days or the city does it and charges the owner.

As a result, Massachusetts, for example, has enacted penalties such as loss of a driver's license for one year, a $1500 fine, restitution, and up to three years in prison. For those jailed, this has been an effective deterrent to further graffiti crime in most cases.

(Updated August 1, 1999)

1. What is meant by the term opportunity cost?
2. a) What are the direct (out-of-pocket) opportunity costs for property owners of graffiti on their buildings? Consult the news story.
  b) What are the indirect opportunity costs?
3. What are the potential direct and indirect opportunity costs for a convicted graffiti felon in Massachusetts?
Source John Larrabee, "Cities wish artists would find another canvas," USA Today, June 29, 1999.

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