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“What’s Up is Up” 

OOH...Here's One Thing —Tragedy of the Commons

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OOH…Here’s One Thing

by Jim Johnsen,
Managing Director, Johnsen, Fretty & Company

My friend Bill Board, was kind enough to invite me to write a periodic column.  Since I am a man of few words, I promise to keep my riffs short going forward and focused on one thing. 


“What’s Up is Up”

—We Call that Capitalism

I first heard the quote”What’s up is up,” when I was a much younger man.  It was spoken by a bold swashbuckling entrepreneur like George Newman, Jeff Gaess or Dan Simon (and of course many others).  Since I was new to the business…and to swashbuckling…it took a while for that statement to really sink in.  But after a few more years and many more meetings with outdoor operators listening to their stories of recent new billboard builds, the light bulb went off.

The general public is never quite as ecstatic as we are, when a beautiful new mono-pole gets lit up.  Sometimes they are quite pissed off in fact.  Is it our obligation to tell them that it’s coming?  Of course, in many situations through abutter notices, town hearings, etc we are forced to go public.  But in many cases, not.  And as the old #OOH adage goes…”a month after the sign goes in the ground, they (the public) think it’s been there forever”.

All that said, is it right?

I have struggled with that question for a long time.   The only answer I come up with, is the famous “tragedy of the commons” metaphor.  William Forster Lloyd, an English economist, in 1833, pointed out that the grass always disappeared from the public common area because everyone thought, “If my cow doesn’t consume a disproportionate share of the common grass, somebody else’s will.”  Come to think of that, I guess we call that capitalism.  It may not be perfect, but IMHO it beats all else by 500 feet (or 1000 feet if you are in AZ).

Jim Johnsen
Office: (203) 406-2424







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