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How Waze Makes Roads Safer than the Police – How an App Improved My Driving – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

How Waze Makes Roads Safer than the Police – How an App Improved My Driving – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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The app economy has improved our lives in thousands of small ways, with seemingly endless opportunities to download and use gadgets that help us throughout the day, whatever our needs. Most are free or purchasable at a nominal charge.

Forget the ingredients for Shepherd’s Pie? Find it in seconds on the smartphone. Worried about the side effects of a new drug? They are there for you. Not sure about the quality of the restaurant you are about to enter? The crowds are anxious to tell you. Need a burrito for lunch? Uber will bring you one. (You can get a flu shot and a kitty, too.)

The truth is that we live completely different lives than we did ten years ago. We have unprecedented access to all life’s necessities, including medical and nutrition information, mapping information, the weather anywhere, plus hundreds of communication apps that allow text, audio, and video with half the human race, instantly, at no charge.

New Waze of Driving
The app I’m most excited about today is a navigation tool called Waze. It provides mapping, plus delightful instructions on how to get from here to there. But beyond that, it crowdsources information to make the trip more efficient and safer than it otherwise would be. In big cities, Waze will take you through circuitous routes to avoid high traffic areas. It alerts you to accidents, road blocks, and debris on the road.

Impressively, it allows drivers to report where the police are staking out speed traps. It tells you whether the officer in question is visible or hidden. You can also confirm or deny the report.

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Police have objected to this feature of the app. Why? Because it means that drivers are better able to avoid getting ticketed. But think about this: the app actually succeeds in causing people to obey the law better by slowing down and being safer, as a way of avoiding fines.

Why would police object? If the whole point of traffic police is to get people to drive more safely, knowing about police presence achieves that goal.

Of course, we all know the real reason. The goal of the police on roads is not to inspire better driving but rather catch people in acts of lawbreaking so that they can collect revenue that funds their department. In other words, the incentives of the police are exactly the opposite of the promised results. Instead of seeking good driving, they are seeking lawbreaking as a means of achieving a different outcome: maximum revenue collection.

The whole ethos of Waze is different. It helps you become aware of your external surroundings, and conscious that other drivers are in a similar situation as you are, just trying to get to their destinations quickly and safely. We are there are help each other.

The Community Matters
For me this effected a big change in the whole way I drive. There is a tendency from your first years of driving to treat other drivers as obstacles. Your goal is to outsmart others who are crowding the road, moving around them quickly and navigating the roads with a chip on your shoulder. If there are no cops around, you drive as fast as possible.

I never intended to drive this way, but now I know that I have been, since I first received my government permission slip to drive. Once behind the wheel, I tended to think of myself as a lone actor.

Waze has subtly changed my outlook on driving. Other drivers become your benefactors because it is they who are reporting on traffic accidents, cars on the side the road, blocked streets, and the presence of police. They are all doing you favors. If you report, others thank you for doing so. You even see icons of evidence that your friends are driving, too.

Safety is priority one. Waze won’t let you type in a new address while you are driving. You have to stop the car before you can do that.

The app manages to create a sense of community out of drivers on the road, and that changes the way you think when you drive. Now I leave Waze on even when I already know the directions. It’s my connection to the community. I find my whole outlook on driving has changed. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I’m a safer and more responsible driver.

So thank you Waze — a product of brilliant entrepreneurship, distributed on private networks, performing a public service.

Compare with the people who are charged with the task of making our roads safe and are paid by our tax dollars to do it. Not only do they fail to accomplish what this one free application has done, they are actively seeking to cripple it.

Baby Steps to a Better World
Maybe this seems like too small a life improvement to justify mentioning? Not so. All great steps toward a better world occur at the margin, bit by bit, through trial and error, one innovation at a time. You look back at the progress of a decade and that’s where the awe comes into play.

It is not through large bills written by legislators and signed by presidents that the world improves. It is through small innovations, inauspicious downloads, incremental improvements in our existing paths that gradually build a better world. Waze is only one of a billion but it points to the right method and approach to an improved life.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Property Rights Aren’t Always the Libertarian Solution – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Property Rights Aren’t Always the Libertarian Solution – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
July 15, 2012
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At FEE’s seminar last week on libertarian perspectives on current events, a participant asked: “How do we privatize the air?”

The student may have had in mind the economic principle, popularized by Ronald Coase, that externalities–especially negative externalities such as air pollution– result from ill-defined or unenforced property rights. The question also seems to reflect a common libertarian idea that in a free society all scarce resources must be owned by somebody. That would include the atmosphere when clean air is scarce.

Property Rights and Economic Development

The Coase Theorem is an economic proposition which says that when property rights are well defined and enforced, and the costs of search, bargaining, and enforcement are reasonably low, voluntary trade will tend to produce results that are economically efficient. Negative externalities will be internalized, as unowned resources are transformed into marketable goods. And if, because of incomplete property rights, entrepreneurs are unable to capture enough of the benefits from their actions (that is, if positive externalities would result), they will be less inclined to make the discoveries that drive economic development. Those benefits would be internalized, too.

There are some positive externalities that most, perhaps all, of those who favor tough property enforcement would hesitate to try to privatize. For example, cultures develop in part on the basis of imitation. Jazz musicians copy from one another all the time, from motifs to entire songs, and reinterpret them in their own creations. Classical musicians have also done this. As a courtesy, the protocol is to name the artist from whom you are copying, such as in “Variations on a Theme of Paganini.”

On an even higher level of abstraction, artists, writers, and even ordinary people partake in an esthetic ethos; scholars, intellectuals, and laymen draw on the intellectual milieu of a place and time. Without the experimentation that comes from such borrowing and give-and-take, cultures would stop evolving; they would die.

The same thing goes for economic development. One entrepreneur discovers a demand for flat-screen televisions and is soon followed by imitators, which in the long run results in lower prices and better quality–and often new products and uses, such as tablet computers.

Don’t get me wrong! Private property rights prevent the kind of free riding that hinders economic development. And of course private property is essential for personal freedom: Property rights not only help to avoid or resolve interpersonal conflict–such as the tragedy of the commons–they are what provide a person with a sphere of autonomy and privacy in an economically developed world where contact with strangers is commonplace.

Elinor Ostrom on the Establishment of Conventions

There are many instances where free riding is a net negative, and the overuse of the atmosphere in the form of air pollution is probably one of them. Despite the efforts of some economists, legislators, and policymakers to institute so-called “cap-and-trade”–which would attempt to establish property rights in the air through government policy–it may be impossible to do something similar for all scarce resources, either by legal mandate or market arrangements. But this need not discourage libertarians, of either the minimal-state or market-anarchist variety.

Consider the work of Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, the only women so far to be so honored. Sadly, Ostrom died on June 12, a great loss for social science. While few would consider her a libertarian–I don’t believe she thought she was–libertarians can learn a lot from her work. She is perhaps best known for her 1990 book, Governing the Commons, in which she presented her methods and findings regarding how people coped (or didn’t cope) with what has come to be known as “common-pool resource” (CPR) problems:

What one can observe in the world, however, is that neither the state nor the market is uniformly successful in enabling individuals to sustain long-term, productive use of natural resource systems. Further, communities of individuals have relied on institutions resembling neither the state nor the market to govern some resource systems with reasonable degrees of success over long periods of time.

Voluntary Conventions

In those instances the nonstate, nonmarket institutions she studied were, when successful, conventions that the users of common-pool resources agreed to and used sometimes for centuries. They were made voluntarily and evolved over time, but they were not market outcomes, at least in the narrow sense, because no one “owned” the resource in question and it was not bought and sold. Ostrom added:

The central question of this study is how a group of principals who are in an independent situation can organize and govern themselves to obtain continuing joint benefits when all face temptations to free-ride, shirk, or otherwise act opportunistically.

Her research covered the harvesting of forests in thirteenth-century Switzerland and sixteenth-century Japan and irrigation institutions in various regions of fifteenth-century Spain. Although not every community Ostrom studied was successful in establishing such conventions, it is instructive how highly complex agreements, enforced by both local norms and effective monitoring, were able to overcome the free-rider problems that standard economic theory–and perhaps vulgar libertarianism–would predict are insurmountable without property rights.

Dealing with air pollution is of course a more difficult problem since it typically entails a much larger population and more diffuse sources and consequences. But it’s important to realize that a “libertarian solution” to air pollution may not necessarily be a “market solution.”

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.