Friday, June 19, 2009

Optimal Lawbreaking

The Austrian Economist has kicked off a provocative discussion of "the optimal number of speeding tickets," aka how much more fun you could have if you only broke a few silly laws. Cf., link. I can relate: for many years, the cost of a parking ticket here in Palookaville was $2 (it has since risen to $15). At $2, there were any number of days when I did what any self-respecting economist would want me to do: I weighed the utiles of satisfaction from my then-current endeavor (often enough, drinking coffee at the world's best coffee shop) against the utiles of harm that I would suffer from getting the ticket--multiplied by the appropriate probability factor--and said screw it, I'll take another sip.

Was I wrong to do so? I must report that I get funny looks from students when I recount this story. Some of them seem to believe I was not wrong. But some seem to feel that it is a matter beyond mere cost-benefit analysis. They want me to obey the law. They also want me to want to obey the law, and to pop an extra quarter into the meter, even at the cost of a momentary personal inconvenience.

They must be onto something. If my roommate says: I have balanced the (probability-weighted) costs I would suffer from murdering my mother against the benefits I would accrue thereby and I have decided not to murder my mother--well, if he says that, I am glad for his mother, but I really don't want to have that guy as a roommate.

The trouble is, I do not know which rules fall into which category. Murder, maybe so. Parking tickets, maybe not. But what about tax evasion? There are probably some social niches where, when you return from prison on a tax rap, they throw you a welcome-home party. Evidently speeding falls in that category.

In Germany, they say, the law is a command to be followed. In Italy, it is a problem to be solved. I was in a taxi once in Budapest with a driver who saw the light ahead of him turn red. He sped up, as if to make sure he would barrel through it before it had time to turn green again. In some circles, the law is a challenge to be accepted.

1 comment:

Bert said...

Got an ugly ticket that I want to get out of. My friend turned me on to a free site, (no email needed, they make money on advertisements) on how to get out of a speeding ticket. It has a pretty funny video and I downloaded the pdf, and it looks pretty cool. I am going to try it out. It is Let me know what you think... Bert