Tuesday 4 February 2014

Lockean Parking

In the Lockean framework, private property can be appropriated from the commons through the mixing of labour. If you mix your labour with the untilled soil, leaving as much and as good yet for others to till, then that tilled soil is yours. You have homesteaded it.*

And so we come to parking spaces in snowy places. Normally, you appropriate a parking spot by putting your car into it. All available spots are up for grabs. Because cities refuse to charge market-clearing prices for parking, there's excess demand that's solved by first-come-first-served queueing.

But suppose you've had a snowstorm. None of the parking spaces are available because they're all snowbanks. When you shovel out a spot, you have homesteaded it. At least a little bit. You've mixed your labour with the uncleared snow and have some ownership right to that space, at least for a little while. Standard practice in many North American cities then allows the clearer of the space to own it and to signal ownership by the leaving of an appropriate marker. A chair, a road cone, a barrel - something big enough to say "Hey, I cleared this spot. I know you could move the barrel and take my spot, but you'd be a total jerk if you did."

The Boston Globe tells me [HT: @BKDrinkwater] that this practice has even been recognized in official city practice [I don't know if it's a bylaw.] If the city declares a snow emergency, you can set out a marker owning a space for 48 hours after the end of the snow emergency. So you get a limited homesteading right. But the city's practice doesn't put in a homesteading requirement.

And so we can get problems where the state comes in to enforce a pre-existing social norm through official practice. What if you declare a snow emergency, and it doesn't snow? By the city's rule, you can then appropriate any old parking spot without having mixed your labour with it. Or can you?
[Mayor] Walsh said he supports the concept of the earned spot. “If you use manual labor to get your car out, I think for 48 hours, a couple days, you can have it,” he said. But last week, after the forecast fizzled, Walsh said “there was clearly no need for saving spaces after that storm.”
Still, many did, especially in South Boston, where residents report being locked in by the system: Whether they agree with the idea or not, if they don’t put one out for themselves — even with no snow on the ground — it would simply mean they have no place to park. So people like Ivaska [earlier dubbed Captain Cone] and a man named Dan Bothwell went on a tear around the neighborhood, tossing everything they found in a parking spot. “I call it my Winter Olympics,” said Bothwell, 37.
“People say to me, ‘Why do you get so mad?’ ” he said. “I say, ‘Because it’s not a South Boston parking issue, it’s a common sense issue. If you get 12 inches and you shovel your spot, you get it for a day. But everybody hates people who abuse it, yet they won’t be an adult and move the cone if they need to park. If something happens to your car, you go to their house.’ ”
The situations can get famously tense. Already this winter, punches have been thrown and nail guns used to shoot out tires. “I hope I’m wrong, but I honestly believe something bad will happen to someone soon. It’s out of control.”
The mayor said that he sees no problem with people moving markers from spots if a person has not shoveled — “That’s not an earned spot,” he said — or if they’re past the 48 hours, and he has a particular peeve with people who put them out before the first flakes fall.
“You can’t put it on blacktop,” he said. “To me, that’s not grounds for saving a space. That’s not how I grew up.”
The streets are empty now, but storm fever will arrive again, and so will the early space-savers. Captain Cone is not betting on common sense.
I love the induced prisoner's dilemma. I also love that it takes an entrepreneur to initiate the revolution. Everybody fears retribution so nobody wants to be first mover against the norm-breaker, and because everybody else fears that the game unravels, they all put out space savers. Until Captain Cone comes around, pushing everybody back to the better equilibrium.

You could likely write a political economy masters thesis on social norms around this issue: how the institution evolved in different cities, how it interacts with city practice - whether parking wardens leave the cones there or biff them, and what happens when code conflicts with norm.

* Cat has homesteaded nothing [very mildly NSFW].


  1. Any thoughts on the Card and Krueger paper that claimed to show how a minimum wage rise did not reduce employment in fast food restaurants?

  2. Lots of recent US papers have found minimal effects of minimum wages, and Doucouliagos's metastudy was damning of some of the papers finding strong effects. I'd discussed it here. http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/minimum-wages-addressing-more-sensible.html

  3. yes, the Christchurch City Council and various trades people put out cones all over the road, claiming space for themselves.
    I built up strength on the front of my car and I run them cones down. My record 14 in one night.
    I usually like to crush them completely and utterly.
    It would have been different if the appropriators , Bob had shovelled snow instead of horse shit

  4. Andrea Loquenzi HolzerWed Feb 12, 02:06:00 am GMT+13

    I agree: this is my take on minimum wage: http://slygames.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/hey-joe-guess-what-youre-fired-minimum-wage-and-poetic-justice/