17
Aug
10

All linky, no thinky: special issue on parking prices

Work on The Fucking Dissertation proceeds apace, and the local liquor store has Pilsner Urquell in stock once again.

My reaction to “we’re out of stock on that” tends to be “raise prices, then”.  As a first approximation of a workable solution, “raise prices” seems to work for any shortage, whether it’s Czech pilsners or seats on the bus or post-secondary education.  And, you would think, parking stalls.

Thereby hangs a tale that has produced volumes of well-reasoned output from some of my favourite economists and has utterly failed to excite my giveashit.

First, Tyler Cowen writes a column questioning the utility of free parking.  I guess building codes in some cities mandate the provision of a certain amount of free(-to-the-motorist) parking, and if only drivers had to pay to park they’d take the bus more and we’d all be sweaty and miserable with triple the commute Much Better Off™.  This will take a bit of social engineering to achieve, but on the face of things it looks like a reasonably Pigovian idea.

Arnold Kling replies skeptically, wondering about how well arguments applied to fixed costs (Tyler, quoting Donald Shoup: “Who pays for free parking?  Everyone but the motorist”) translate to the marginal costs of a driver actually using a parking space for an hour or so.  Then he wonders whether an increase in the number of empty parking spaces is “welfare-improving”.  Huh?  I thought that was the point — price parking spaces high enough that anyone who really wants one can find one.  (It sure improves that driver’s welfare!)  What’s all this social-engineering shit doing in my econ?  If I wanted fatal conceits I’d read Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein.

Then Robin Hanson chimes in with what first looks like a sorely-needed Whiskey Tango Fucktrot, but quickly turns into ad hominem accusations of status-quo bias.  Maybe?  I guess?  At this point I start wondering if this is all a pissing contest between car-hating East Coasters and car-hater-hating Everywhere Elsers.  Dilligaf flux rises.

Cowen, for his part, clarifies his position with an eminently-sensible lead-in (“Don’t abolish free parking; rather, abolish minimum free-parking requirements”), then goes off on a recalculation-and-public-choice story.  At this point I start reverting to my Rothbardian roots and yell at the monitor about property rights.  Let the people who own the parking lot figure out how to price it.  Why is this controversial?  By now Pigou has gone right out the window, and I’m close to defenestrating Coase as well.

Kling, unsatisfied, replies to Hanson with a cheerfully anarchistic thought experiment (“Imagine there’s no state provision of parking spots / It’s easy if you try”) which ends up somehow “warning” about a (implied) “worst case” where

[B]usinesses agree to each provide a minimum number of parking places and housing developers agree to provide streets wide enough to allow parking.

Okay, I was wrong.  This isn’t a pissing match between car-haters and car-hater-haters, it’s a circle-jerk among car-haters where some of them are playing “open-minded” Devil’s Advocates.  By now I’m praying for the San Andreas Fault to relocate to the other side of the continent.  Oh wait, I do that every day.  Sorry Vermont.

Next, Kling uncorks a thoroughly useful post exploring the different marginal costs associated with the provision of free parking.  The question of whether the state does in fact force the provision of free parking — which seems central to me when I can muster some interest — is relegated to the last paragraph.  I’m almost numb to the whole thing now, even though I dearly enjoy marginal arguments (marginalia?  See, that’s how I cope: I make silly puns).

Finally, Ryan Avent joins the party with a tight focus on the government-intervention question.  He’s writing everything I wish had been written the day before (yes, this eternity of a debate has only taken a day to unfold) but by now all I care about is stringing these articles together into a putatively-funny blog post.

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