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Traffic Jams

By Matthew Yglesias on August 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm

"Traffic Jams"

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I feel certain that if Financial Times did an article about how some country’s determination to provide free bags of rice to all its citizens was leading people to spend a huge amount of time standing on line waiting for rice, that they would highlight the fact that this is what happens when you don’t price things correctly. There’s only so much rice. There are only so many hander-outers of rice. If you try to make the rice free to everyone, you’re going to get lines and shortages.

At any rate, as Clive Cookson points out in the FT a comparable problem exists on most countries’ roadways:

Traffic

Access to these roadways is generally either free, or else set a price determined by something other than the scarcity of space on the roadway. And yet any given street or highway can only fit so many cars at a time. So when the price is unrelated to the scarcity, you get shortages and queuing—traffic jams. But weirdly a whole long article on improved traffic management just leaves this as a throwaway line “In the long term, variable road pricing or tolls on main roads may provide a partial answer but these are not yet technically or politically feasible in most countries.”

That’s fair enough, but none of the other stuff in the article is yet technically or politically feasible in most countries either. And the question of what is and isn’t “politically feasible” is itself amenable to influence by media coverage.

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