Friday, March 2, 2007

Freedom and Order

One of the principles of modern free market thinking is that people make better decisions for themselves than others do for them. Basically, it means that, in the main, on average, letting people make their own choices leads to the best results. The best known example is a centrally planned economy, which is far less efficient than the spontaneous order that results from free trade. But it also applies to other areas of society. One which I have been following for awhile is the theory that removing street signs would improve traffic safety. The theory goes that if there are too many signs and regulations drivers worry only about not breaking a rule, or not being caught breaking a rule, but if there are no rules, drivers must watch their surroundings and make constant choices about the best way to drive. Most people think that the idea is an example of the worst excesses of academia, theory fully divorced from the constraints of reality.
The Dutch city of Makkinga has put that theory into practice, eliminating all traffic signs.

The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

Apparently, traffic accidents are down dramatically, much to the chagrin of those who would tell us they know what is best.

HT: Cafe Hayek


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