Friday, September 11, 2009

File this under: Property rights problem, things that sound like

Upon climbing into my car this morning, I found the following note under my windshield wiper, verbatim:

Please park on your side of the street. No one from this side (block) parks on your side! Seriously, this has become a problem, park on your own side and be courteous to us as we are to you.

Since the Steelers game was last night, I needed a nice pick-me-up this morning, and this note did the trick nicely.

My thoughts:

1) Clearly, there are no property rights on a public street, but could pseudo-property rights to areas of a city block emerge in a common law fashion? And how strong could they become? Demsetz explained beautifully that property rights emerge when it is profitable for them to do so; is there enough value in not crossing the street for a rudimentary system to evolve? I'm intrigued. And under what circumstances would these rights emerge to become strongest? Exceedingly busy streets with numerous parkers and a low average availability time for an open spot would seem unlikely because you would rarely get a spot in a similar locale day after day (think New York), and I think the perceived ability to get a spot in the same area regularly plays, rightly or wrongly, a strong role in the emergence of the pseudo-right. But desolate streets wouldn't see the emergence either, since there wouldn't be a profitable reason for the right to develop (think one fisherman for the entire Pacific Ocean).

2) Along the same lines, the concept of "your side" is lost in the fact that, again, there aren't any property rights to the street.

3) The argument of courteous behavior compelling reciprocal behavior is also interesting. I presume it's an attempt to forge a Folk Theorem-like cooperation in the long run. Especially of interest to me is the use of "courteous" as a carrot for spreading automotive well-being. Given the wording of "your side," I presume that a) the note-leaver would prefer to park on "his side" of the street because b) it's closer to where he lives, and therefore a shorter walk. Note that self-interest aligns with the "courteous" behavior. All considered, as an economist, I think I'd have appreciated something to the effect of "could you park in another spot so as to minimize my costs?" I'm not sure it would have changed my behavior in any case, but at least it would be more to the point and would have avoided the troubling dichotomy that people seem perpetuate that acting in one's interest is necessarily at odds with beneficial outcomes to others.

Your thoughts on the matter? I'm gauging my response; for me, this development is far more interesting than the upcoming G20 meetings which figure to cause disorder in a few weeks.


doclawson said...


Social norms are weird like this. I've noticed that in Auburn it's ok to park on either side of the street facing either direction. This would be very bad, even illegal, in Ohio.

Btw, my favorite example of street parking property rights is in South Boston. The norm is that if you clear a parking spot of snow you 'own' the spot and mark it with a chair or cone. The city even acknowledges this right (though asking that residents only hold spots for 48 hours after a storm.) It's all very Lockean, mixing your labor with the land, and all that, as well as Hayekian spontaneous order.

Woe be to the person who parks in someone's spot:

danarch said...

That guy sounds like a dildo. Next time you park on "his" side of the street, just leave a note under your own windshield for him that notes that it is a public street and so you can park wherever you want. Tell him to buy a parking space if he is concerned about having a place to park that is close to his house- only problem is risking vandalism to your car as a result.

My question however is how does he know which side of the street you (your car) live on? Is it a small neighborhood or something?

Anonymous said...

I just finished a letter to my neighbor in response to a similar note left on my car, complaining that I parked in front of his stairs. His stairs output to a public street, and I live next door. Basically I told him I had equal rights to this public space as he did and why should I be inconvenienced by parking way down the street and having to walk to my home...

The letter stressed that he had no more rights to people not parking in front of his walkways and stairs than his neighbors...and I had by far parked in front of my neighbors walkways and stairs than his.