Friday 8 October 2010

Libertarian Magic

Via Mises, how about something quite magical to end the week?

I've mentioned before that 'shared space' schemes are one of the best illustrations of libertarianism in action, but moving pictures speak louder than words.

Two aspects of this are very significant.

Firstly, it's quite clear that, whenever tested, projects such as Portishead's are not just mildly successful, they are almost faultlessly so.

Secondly, prior to their implementation, most don't believe it possible.

The former is proof that humans are very capable of interacting with each other with courtesy, the problems occur when a hierarchy - and with it, a superiority - is prescribed by a third party. The latter shows how deeply ingrained the figment of the state (and its delegated local administrators) as sole arbiters of our safety has now become.

Libertarians believe that people are innately social, that they can interact harmoniously with minimal authority. Statists believe that no-one can be trusted to wipe their own nose without someone being paid to instruct them. Libertarians like people, statists fundamentally distrust them.

'Shared space' schemes not only suggest that libertarians have a valid point, they also show that by taking the same line in other areas, society and behaviour may well be improved for the better. Which is a 'good thing', surely.

Or we could just carry on encouraging people to be selfish 'entitled' bastards at the state's behest, I suppose.

No, actually, I don't suppose that at all. Freedom works, we should aspire to more of it.


Mark Wadsworth said...

This whole 'turning off the traffic lights' topic gets bogged down in 'principles'. 'Principles' are all well and good, but seeing as human beings are complicated and unpredictable, it is far better to just observe 'what they do' and work backwards from that.

Anybody who keeps their eyes open will have noticed that when traffic lights are turned off, for whatever reason, traffic flows more smoothly and pedestrians find it easier to cross the road.

That's about the end of the matter.

The minute you say that, you end up with the right wingers or 'Libertarians' shouting hooray! and the left wingers and Authoritarians shouting no! and somehow they turn it into a 'people vs motorists' discussion, cheerfully glossing over the fact that poor people take the bus, and buses are just as likely to get stuck in a queue at traffic lights as anybody else.

Which is why the first job of my transport minister will be to turn off the f---ing traffic lights, nationwide.

Dick Puddlecote said...

It's certainly not 'people v motorists'. Legislation will always, but always, encourage 'people v people' arbitrarily, in whatever context.

Shared spaces success proves that the public can be trusted far more than they are given credit for by those paid to think up new rules.

Hope the commas around libertarians weren't aimed at me? ;)

Twisted Root said...

'Libertarians like people', there's a PR campaign in that phrase.

TheFatBigot said...

There is an additional benefit to turning off traffic lights, which is that drivers have to think more about what they are doing.

No longer can they act like sheep ("green - baaaa - drive", "red - baaaa - stop"), now they must concentrate on the actual conditions they face and react accordingly.

There will always be some selfish bastards who don't give way to anyone, so be it. They are the sort who would accelerate when they knew the lights were about to change or just jump a red if it didn't suit them to be delayed a while. You can't stop them being arseholes, so look at what is best for the rest.

It is noticeable in the film that many drivers give a little wave of thanks to the person who has let them through. We shouldn't ignore the benefit of being on the receiving end of a gesture like that. It's only a small thing, but it makes life more pleasant.

That it rolls back the State-knows-best culture is a wonderful further benefit.

Anonymous said...

Interesting clip and my area would certainly gain from this. However all the Councilors think of is widening roads which costs more and solves nothing. I've lost weeks of live sat at red traffic lights with NOTHING coming the other way.

Mark Wadsworth said...

DP the apostrophes weren't aimed at you, they were aimed at those 'Libertarians' who say that everything the government does is bad and that all taxes are bad.

While a lot of what the government does is bad and most taxes are bad, what about the very roads we drive on?

I agree that speed limits, traffic lights etc are pointless, but without the government to force them through, we would not have anything more than dirt tracks. There'd always be a f---ing NIMBY somewhere who doesn't agree.

(Which is the dilemma that the 'Lbertarians' refuse to resolve - which 'right' is more Holy to them - a landowner's right not to be impinged by his neighbour or the neighbour's right to do what the hell he wants on his own land.)

Similarly, let's think about fuel duties.

People hate them. We could get rid of them and add 5% to income tax, if you wanted. As a result of which the roads would be twice as crowded and the productive economy would be even more f---ed. That doesn't sound like a good outcome to me.

Anonymous said...

I watched the video with increasing enjoyment - I used to live in Portishead!

May I just put in one proviso - and it does NOT dispute your comments at all.

Portishead is on the coast, next to Avonmouth and close to the M5. The Avonmouth traffic does not pass through Portishead. Most people using the High Street and other roads will be locally based; there will be comparatively little traffic passing through and going on elsewhere. Portishead is a commuter town for Bristol and a great place to live and gain easy access for longer distance commutes on the M5.

As a result, the local people (i.e. the road users) will have had a chance to take in the planned changes and will have been ready for them. They will also have a vested interest in making them work!

For this to work elsewhere enough advance notice of plans must be given to allow the populace to come to terms with it. Whether it would work with a large volume of one-off, non-local traffic remains to be seen. Portishead is not that trial.

[Jersey has "filter in turn" junctions where it is the Law (with a fine imposed on the spot) to do exactly that. And from my limited experience it seems to work extremely well.]

Alan Bates

Mark Wadsworth said...

@ Anon. That's why Martin Cassini calls his campaign "Roads FiT for people", the 'FiT' stands for 'filter in turn.

Anonymous said...

To Alan Bates above,

I live in Dartford, right where the A2 meets the M25/ Dartford tunnel. Last year we had a power cut that lasted almost a week. During that time the town centre traffic ran smoothly with none of the usual gridlock that occurs at rush hour. Nobody was expecting the power cut, but people responded to it the way I knew they would. They resorted to driving courteously as without the controls, there really is no other option.

Bald headed John.