Wandering the neighborhood on this morning’s bike ride, I ran across this sign:
I’m reading Robert Ellickson’s 1991 book Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes. It’s a fascinating bit of legal scholarship about how residents of Shasta County, in California, manage the problems posed by cattle wandering off the ranch and onto other folks’ ranchettes, or alfalfa pastures.
The legal structures, distinctions between “open range” and “closed range” and related rules about fencing requirements and liability, are byzantine. So what Ellickson found was that, rather than resort to courts and laws, residents just kinda sorted things out in practical ways that tended to respect cultural norms of neighborliness. Framed in the context of the economist Ronald Coase, the “transaction costs” of taking the lawyerly path are just too damned high. Framed in terms of game theory, repeated interactions with your neighbors make the lawyerly path awkward and unproductive.
This seems not to be working in the Fair West neighborhood.