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January 31, 2007

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Mark Wadsworth

Brilliant article, well done.

Marcin Tustin

Yes. Shame that neither schools nor universities on the whole teach basic philosophy of ethics, language, science, or epistemology, as a matter of course. Indeed, even economics would help deal with the first and last propositions.

Cleanthes

"What it fails to see is that driving is an other-regarding act which imposes harm - congestion, pollution and inconvenience - upon others. "

I have to disagree. With the exception of the pollution element, an exception whose externality is already hideously over-internalised through taxation, the only harm of congestion is upon those who would also choose to do the same thing at the same time.

If you choose not to travel down that stretch of road at the same time as everyone else, you are not harmed by the congestion. If you do, you are part of the harm, not separate from it.

A better example might be, e.g., smoking in a restaurant. Someone else's cigarette smoke ruins my meal.

The rest of your points 1-5 are spot on, give or take the proviso above.

Cleanthes

Oh - meant to stick in a cheeky link on my cheeky aside on petrol taxes:
http://timworstall.typepad.com/timworstall/2006/10/petrol_taxes_ar.html

guest

"the only harm of congestion is upon those who would also choose to do the same thing at the same time."

Still, we get an inefficient outcome, since road capacity goes unpriced. It's a "tragedy of the commons" situation - if individual drivers could efficiently bargain with each others, the total amount of driving would be far less.

ian

Cleanthes said..."the only harm of congestion is upon those who would also choose to do the same thing at the same time."

Well precisely - but there is still a cost to me if I decide not to drive at a particular time because of congestion. Whatever happens my freedom is constrained by others actions. The difference here is that this constraint on me is not recognised by those imposing it.

Congestion also harms 'non-participants' by causing delays and increased costs in all sorts of areas from emergency services to the delivery of goods etc to homes and businesses.

Tim Worstall

"I think rugby union, Tottenham fans and public schoolboys are distasteful, but I don't really want them banned."

Phew, that's a relief although I am only one and enjoy only one of the other two.

Not Saussure

And also, I think, people making particular journeys can cause undue congestion and difficulties for others. We must most of us be familiar with the delivery driver who manages to cause great inconvenience by making his delivery during the rush-hour, thus blocking the road, or with the parents who cause delays by trying to turn into and out of a particular side-road when delivering their children to school.

Sam

Cleanthes:
"With the exception of the pollution element, an exception whose externality is already hideously over-internalised through taxation, the only harm of congestion is upon those who would also choose to do the same thing at the same time."

Well, the noise from road use harms those who live or work near a busy road - I suppose you could include that in "pollution", though. Busy roads also harm pedestrians (it becomes harder to cross roads, takes longer etc.) in a way that isn't entirely symmetrical.

simon Dodson

At least part of the problem is that libertarianism is associated with the likes of Simon Heffer. The Conservative party has publicly embraced the label Libertarian and they certaintly exist to defend privilege.

Planeshift

Add costs of accidents in which innocent passers by are injured and killed, noise pollution for those living near busy roads, and the actual cost of maintaining the road infrastructure.

This thread is a useful illustration of the fact that we can't always agree what the externalities of consumption actually are, and thus what "cost" should be added to consumption to reflect these externalities.

Fabian Tassano

Well said, Mr Dillow. Though I wonder how your "least bad judge" point relates to the topic of "cognitive bias" which you have helped to bring to public attention.

Simon Dodson, do please explain what you mean by "defending privilege". Does that include less progressive taxation, less expansion of the university sector, less transfer of resources from private to public sector? If so, I'd like to sign up to it, but fear that the Tories no longer represent it.

Katherine

"This means the state has no business stopping a man gambling his money away, or taking drugs or using prostitutes (assuming women have entered that noble profession voluntarily.)"

I'll assume that you include womankind in those who are entitled to liberty, notwithstanding this particular list of activities. Of perhaps you are intending only lesbians to be recipients of liberty.

Cleanthes

Quest,

Exactly, but that is not what Chris was saying.

Various others, with examples of accidents, cars running down pedestrians, are also off the mark. I don't consider the liberty of a car driver to include the liberty to run other people down. It's also not congestion.

Ian,

"Whatever happens my freedom is constrained by others actions. "

True, but irrelevant: this is not an "other regarding" example. Let's take the cars out of this for a mo.

Imagine you have a building with a door, or a narrow footbridge or somesuch. Only x number of people can get through it in a certain time. If 2x turn up at exactly the same time, they will all get stuck and none will get through. This is congestion. It is a resources problem not a liberty problem.

No *harm* is done to anyone who is not either part of that 2x OR WANTS TO BE PART OF THAT 2x (+ a bit). The harm that Chris describes is inflicted by virtue of the fact that you also want to do the thing that is causing the harm. There may be harm, but you
are not an "other".

Equally, the delivery driver parking and blocking the road is a moron, not part of the general congestion.

It's a niggling, minor point - the rest of the points 1-5 are absolutely spot on, but I just felt that Chris likes to get these things right.

David Gillies

From a theoretical standpoint, the externalities of road transport could be internalised or mitigated by either Coasean bargaining or Pigouvian taxation. I think the problem that many people have, including me, is that they no longer trust government (this one especially, but also government in general) to implement a scheme in anything like a workable, efficient and equitable fashion. A Pigou tax, for example, should be revenue neutral. Does anyone really think that the likes of Gordon Brown would stand for that?

ManBearPig

Add costs of accidents in which innocent passers by are injured and killed, noise pollution for those living near busy roads, and the actual cost of maintaining the road infrastructure

jameshigham

Yes, well done Chris and a shift from your earlier left-of-centre line, hence Tim Worstall's relief.

Bucko

Cleanthes makes a very good point about the motoring but I'm not so sure about the smoking example.

Sure, if you don't like cigarette smoke will ruin your meal.

When you entered the restaurant, was there a sign on the door that said 'Smoking allowed' or 'Non smoking'?

This analogy only works if you entered a non-smoking restaurant.

A person can willfully put themselves in a situation where an other-regarding action of smoeone else, adversly affects them. If they do so, they have no right to suggest the other person ceases.

Another example would be to enter a noisy disco and demand they turn down the music lest it affects your hearing.

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