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Last week I rambled on about Michael Sandel's argument that markets were too prevalent today. I disagree. Take this example. I live in a small, sleepy suburban development – about 200 houses were built on old farmland here about 50 years ago, most homes are on 1/4 acre plots, most homes are mid-sized split-level ranch-ish houses and the development dead ends at all roads. It is a popular place for families to raise kids. The reason we bought here is that I think the house is liquid, and as I am fairly notorious for moving around a lot did not want to get stuck in an unhappy situation. In any event, there are several people in the neighborhood who drive like bats out of hell. They seem to be young people in their late teens or early 20s, but there are a couple of older maniacs too. The posted "law" for speed limits is 30 mph, and that even seems high given how many hills and turns there are in the community, plus the fact that there are no sidewalks here. Many families have very young kids who play and bike in the streets and nearby in their driveways, and many families have pets. People have honked at the speeders. People give nasty looks to the speeders. But they continue.

The problem here is that there is a missing market. There is no market for using the streets as a thrill-provider. The problem cuts two ways of course. Our kids and dogs wish to freely and safely use the streets and the crazies wish to use the streets to speed to their destinations. Custom and the fact that we live where we do ought to dictate where the actual rights lie (with the kids and dogs) but that does not seem to be doing the job in this case. In Sandel's world the problem is that we have markets everywhere. Well, if there were actually some way to make exchanges about how to use the street here, all parties would be safer and better off. In Sandel's world where we need to limit the reach of markets, a natural solution in a world where custom is not doing the trick, where community fabrics are not strong enough to do the trick … is to do what? I can see that the only option is to ban driving on the roads or to ban playing on the roads – these are incompatible uses of the scarce resource.

If you find this to be a bit of a draconian "solution" then you are well on your way to understanding the benefits of  markets. Remember that it is too costly for the police to sit here and monitor our road and every other road – again resources are scarce. Markets have the potential here to have residents of my neighborhood craft a system of payments to make everyone happier. The fact that residents have not done so indicates perhaps that the transactions costs of doing so exceed the potential gains to be made from trades between families and crazy drivers. But this can and surely will change as technologies and norms change. But rather than railing on and on about the dehumanization of people because of markets, perhaps we ought to encourage more of it. At least markets have the advantage of giving strangers an opportunity to interact when they otherwise would not. That surely applies to our neighborhood now.

5 Responses to “Too Few, Not Too Many”

  1. Rod says:

    How about speed bumps or speed humps (where 15 mph keeps one's car from hitting one's oil pan)? 
    Back in the olden days when I was farming full-time, I had a hard time getting drivers to drive slowly enough to stop for the cows crossing the street:  there was a 45 degree corner just 70 yards from the cattle crossing.)
    One Sunday morning I was returning from a field I had plowed and I just dropped my plow at the corner and pulled forward six inches to score the road surface a teeny bit.  That damage eventually grew into a cavernous pothole that made drivers slow down to 20 mph or less around the corner.  My cows thanked me for my mischief.

  2. wintercow20 says:


  3. chuck martel says:

    Most little towns in Mexico have speed bumps that will shake your bumpers off if you go over them faster than 10 mph.

  4. harry says:

    FYI, WC. this works on a windows computer. Maybe Bill Gates is to blame for it not working on a stupid IPhone 3 — must have paid off the software engineers, Getting paranoid. With my phone the guys from Microsoft in the black helicopters know where I am.
    BTW, where did they come up with fckeditor as an acronym? Still paranoid.

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