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.
One big difference is that the number of folks involved in the issue is far greater in the city. Consider than depending on geography and the volume of the event up to a significant part of a square mile could be involved. In a city that means a lot of affected folks. So here the issue as in so many things, population density makes a difference in the amount of regulation involved. If I lived outside the county seat in Edwards County Tx (pop density .9/square mile, excluding the county seat Rock Springs pop density .38/sq mile) (or try DeBaca Co NM with the same population density) I could probably have an event and not disturb anyone, or at least could talk to the neighbors affected before hand. However in Fair West you could not catch all the folks affected, This is actually IMHO a piece of a larger issue the media generally ignore, that the regulation in say Manhattan, needs to be more involved that the regulation in Edwards Co Tx. It seems that the politicians keep aiming for one size fits all regulation which won’t work.