Saturday, January 19, 2008

Disappearing Hitchhikers

Where have all the hitchhikers gone? I rarely see anyone thumbing for a ride. Yet, according to my gray-haired father, everyone hitchhiked in the 60's. The most frequent answer seems to be that it is "too dangerous." The problem with this hypothesis is that violent crime is on the decline, and it has been for many years. This absence could just be explained by a change in prices. Transportation may have become less expensive or perhaps the internet has made arranging rides with strangers easier

My tentative explanation, though, is as follows: Its true that crime has fallen, but people who hitchhike today are more likely to be violent than people who hitchhiked in the 60's. The 60's and 70's saw relatively large numbers of young people due to the baby boomers. Normal young people were more likely to hitchhike. They don't have as much money, are less likely to be on strict schedules, and are possibly more risk taking. Drivers, consequently, are then more likely to pick up young hitchhikers. The more normal people hitchhiking encourages more people of all ages to participate. There is positive feedback.

As the number of young people has declined, the characteristics of people who hitchhike have made drivers less willing to give strangers a ride. At some tipping point, the equilibrium switched from "everyone participates" to "just the weirdos still do that." Now (perhaps for Akerlof-ish reasons) average quality is low and difficult to detect, and as a result, mutually beneficial exchanges do not take place.

1 comment:

Matt E. Ryan said...

My initial mindset was that there's some laws affecting hitchhiking as well, varying across states, but evidently this is an urban myth: