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Jul 31, 2009

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Travis Greene

This is a good metaphor in some ways, but the flaw is, of course, that somebody had to build the roads in the first place.

Additionally, drivers do, in fact, communicate with each other about their intentions all the time. Turn signals, waves, nods...I may not decline to go on the green light, but I've certainly allowed many people into traffic ahead of me, pulled over to let folks around, and so forth. There is such a thing as driving courtesy, and it's very important to the system.

Further, as you say, not everybody has a car. And we also have (publicly subsidized) buses, bicycle trails, etc. So maybe the best thing about this metaphor is that it reveals how truly complicated economics are. Nothing is as radically individualist as anyone claims.

Michael W. Kruse

The infrastructure would be put in place through taxes and fees. There are parallel examples to keeping a market economy operating as well.

That drivers communicate and negotiate specific circumstances that affect them personally really doesn't address Heyne's metaphor. The issue is that none of us are in constant communication with everyone in our proximity, collaboratively trying to decide what is in the common interest of all drivers, or engaging in ethical debate over who should be given primacy based on their present mission. When the occasional question of what to do arises in traffic, we usually resolve it through courtesy. Acting with courtesy toward others in pursuit of you individual aims is courtesy ... not communal action. I don't thinking bicycles or walking really impacts the metaphor.

Buses are interesting. If buses are available, we still pick which ones to take based on our individualist concerns of where we need to be and when. It is just that a group of riders turns over the traffic negotiation to one driver rather than doing it themselves. That driver, is still operating on individualist mindset of getting from point A to B, and not worrying about the overall common good of traffic flow.

But here is the challenge with buses and other mass transportation: you need a mass of people. There must be a high concentration of people all making relatively similar transportation destination and timing decisions. When they choose to take the bus or subway it is an individualist decision based on the merits one ascribes to various options. Thus, while the vehicles may be managed and run by a centralized entity, they function in the metaphor no differently than the individual driver.

Dave Hackett

Michael, Paul Heyne was my favorite professor at the University of Washington during my undergrad econ degree studies. I took small upperclass seminars with him. We discovered both of us were PKs, he a Lutheran and I a Presbyterian. We delighted in ruminating on an economic way of understanding The Fall. He was a gracious, accessible professor, one I will never forget.

Michael W. Kruse

Very cool. Never met him but I love his writing.

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