Thursday, October 21, 2010

What would Coase say?

The Oct 25 New Yorker includes Tad Friend's "Blowback: The great suburban leaf war". Without markets, there is politics and conflict. All politics are local and the most lively of these are the parts that involve home and neighborhood. Leaf blowers than have a special notoriety. They create noise, dust and the various gasoline engine emissions. All of these are hard to price so we are where we are.

What are the alternatives? Labor using rake and broom (and immigrant gardeners) is expensive. Pre-leaf blower, it was water via the right garden hose nozzle (or thumb). The author does note that "Blowers were hailed as an environmental boon: when Los Angeles was suffering from a water shortage in 1976 and 1977, the city instructed municipal workers to use them, rather than the traditional thumb stream from a hose, to clean sidewalks and driveways."

Just as perpetual "famines" in the old USSR and the current North Korea explain their starvation, we have had long-standing "droughts" in California. We actually have politicized water allocation and pricing. So the politics of water pricing brought forth the leaf blowers which brought forth all the politics described in the story.

The "law of unintended consequences"? Only when we ignore basic economics?