May 31

Photo by Ira Block

[This essay was originally entitled "Lessons from Grand Central Station", until several readers pointed out that the correct name is Grand Central Terminal.  It was an error that I could not let stand.  The permalink (URL) reflects the original title so as to not break existing references. -- Author/Admin]

Every weekday morning, trainloads of people are dumped into New York’s Grand Central Terminal and sent on their way.  Thousands per hour traverse the huge main room as they make their way to their desired subway stations, taxi stands and exits in all directions.  Arteries of traffic spontaneously form and disperse — you can join one that’s going in your general direction, get swept along its path and then step out at your stop.   The human pathways will intersect each other with the precision of a champion marching band.   Collisions between any two people amongst the throngs are rare, even amongst those who clearly don’t know where they’re going.

Photo by Ira Block

What’s most remarkable about the above is that no one manages this process.   There are no human traffic cops in white gloves waving some people on and telling others to stop.  There are no ropes herding commuters one way or another.    There are no rules dictating which path you must take to get from point A to point B.   The room manages itself, based on essentially one unwritten rule:  common courtesy. That is to say, you can’t charge through the crowd like a running back, stiff arming people as you go.   What might initially appear as chaos is instead a model of simplicity and efficiency.

Many of the most beautiful structures and creations in the world are also models of simplicity.  Most people will recognize

E=MC2

as Einstein’s deceptively simple “energy equivalence” formula, which explains some of the most profound physical relationships in the universe.   Many others have encountered the classic Mandelbrot image, which can be described by a set of mathematical equations totaling about 1/2000th of the length of Obamacare.

Not designed by Congress

Sadly, it seems as though simplicity is politically incorrect.

Witness the bewildering sizes of recent pieces of legislation, or attempted legislation, drafted in true “we’ve really got it this time” fashion.    Obamacare tips the scales at 2000+ pages. The recent financial reform bill is 3000+ (with the original Glass-Steagall act, whose re-birth some people are calling for, weighing in at a paltry 34 pages).   Even the government’s response to the tragically ongoing BP oil spill has been one of triangulation and determined-complexity.   Get some supertankers to siphon off the leaking oil?   Nope.   Help Louisiana Gov. Jindal to build some temporary barrier islands along parts of the coastline?  No sir.  Keep a boot on the throat of BP — hey, that’s a killer sound bite!  Let’s go with that!

It’s interesting to instead think of how brief, yet sweeping, some alternatives might be:   Take financial regulation:   How about a few pages, summarized by:  “You are free to fail; proceed at your own risk”. Or health care:   “A true insurance policy, provided by the private sector, can cover you for catastrophic-but-unlikely events.  You can cover all other expenses, just like any other consumer good.” Energy policy?   “The government will enforce property rights but otherwise has no dog in this hunt.  We encourage (verbally only) all entrepreneurs to build the better mousetrap and let the world beat the path to your door.” International trade:   “We welcome the best and cheapest suppliers, as defined by their customers, to provide them with goods and services.   To levy taxes and tariffs on imports is to commit an act of war against our own citizens.”

 

 

What each of these “solutions” have in common, besides simplicity and less attractive press conferences, is something which an ever-growing government seems determined to choke off:  personal responsibility.    What each of the government “solutions” substitutes instead, is hubris.

Indeed, the hubris of government is that multi-thousand page bills can actually accurately describe and account for the complexity of the real world, where hundreds of millions of economic actors interact in virtually infinite combinations (see also, the Mandelbrot above).  By contrast, any good engineer will tell you that simplicity and reliability go hand in hand.  Remember the KISS principle?  (Even the rock band of the same name has profited handsomely from that.)  How many times have we seen “fewer (or no) moving parts” as part of a sales pitch?  Computer hard drives are being replaced by flash memory for this very reason.   A software engineer might tell you that the fastest code is the code that is never called.   Likewise, the most productive programmer is the one that solves the problem with the fewest commands.    Complexity is the arch-enemy of reliability, and its corollary, predictability.     Think about this:  A system with 50 required parts, each one having 95% reliability, has an overall reliability of .9550, or barely 8%!

It should be no surprise, therefore, that our telephone book sized pieces of legislation fail to hold up to their lofty promises.   Betting on their ultimate ineffectiveness is like the proverbial “shooting fish in a barrel”.   In trying to capture one detail after another, they bake failure in to their very core.

Back in the real world, such legislative endeavors have a perverse effect.   This past Friday, CNBC aired some extraordinary comments by Steve Wynn, Chairman of Wynn Resorts.   He basically echoed sentiments expressed at this web site many months ago, and lamented on the lack of clarity and predictability of the environment within which business must operate.     In this adminstration’s lust for addressing every nook and cranny of our economy, and in their belief that they can legislate their way to greatness, they have instead legislated paralysis.  And the Steve Wynn’s of the world, the risk takers, the true job creators, are expending their productive energies in far away places like Macau, rather than in our own backyard.

If one wonders why job creation in this country is below expectations, perhaps examining those expectations in the context of such legislative complexity is in order.    Where Grand Central’s unmanaged and unregulated system allows solutions to spontaneously ebb and flow as needs require, Washington instead is criss-crossing our economy with crowd-control ropes and tangling our economic actors into knots.

Sign up for a Free Subscription

41 Responses to “Lessons from Grand Central Terminal”

  1. When some one searches for his required thing, therefore he/she needs to be available that in detail, thus that thing
    is maintained over here.

  2. Thank you for this awesome information. I look forward to more of your topics.

  3. Banh says:

    Here is an example of overwhelming government control and how it unravels the natural fabric of organization in population. I live in Ukraine much of the time, and as an American I see that most of the population does nothing to “spiffy up” their physical surroundings.. Missing / stolen manhole covers everywhere, trash, musty dirty unpainted foyers in most all apartment buildings, on and on. In private residences you may encounter a luxurious living space, but out in the hall many will not replace a light bulb by their OWN door…
    In a society in which government becomes your ruler rather than your passive management system, one loses all sense of responsibility for the “natural” sense of community. It seems it is replaced by an indignant sense of “screw you, it’s not my job.” One’s life becomes encapsulated out of safety and survival to include the dismissal of their own communal needs and responsibilities. If it were mandated, perhaps it got done…if not, it didn’t.
    Is this how a culture’s cooperative nature gets squashed, by massive government management, or in this case, manhandling? I’m sure my Ukrainian friends and neighbors would give me a huge argument on this, but I know what I hear and what I see. The natural organization of Ukraine has been messed up by dictators and top-down collectives from an earlier time. This situation is reflected in the general attitude toward most public issues. It will take a couple of generations for it to improve markedly. I have an astute young friend who calls his own population Soviet “product”.
    And now, we have our US Gov’t. pushing Soviet style controls and management on American society. I do not believe I’ve made an overstatement…please prove me wrong.

    • Administrator says:

      Very well said. I’m not a sociology researcher, but I’m fairly certain that what you’re describing is consistent with a theory I have, which is one of Civil Society Trust’s main themes: As more and more government programs come into existence, people consciously or subconsciously take less interest in the well-being of their fellow man, and most importantly, what they could themselves do about it, because they can begin to think “there’s a program for that.” The fellow man’s well-being is now someone else’s responsibility, supposedly handled via our tax dollars. Whether or not the tax-funded program actually achieves the original goal, and is modified or abolished accordingly, is rarely monitored.

      • joe says:

        the problem is societies hold together based on “mutual cooperation” only to some degree of size or cultural ethnic cohesion (i’m a sociologist and historian.)

        the reason we have government is that people see “neighbors” around them who they don’t really care about. or, because say, a factory in china doesn’t see the “neighbors” that it sends lead-painted toys to.

        people have usually (historically) only been interested in themselves and members of their own narrow demographic. for example, it’s tough to get people to care about the conditions of workers in factories when the workers in factories are from new immigrant minorities and the person who owns the factory is a WASP who lives in a different part of the state.

        what you have in the absence of the bureaucratic state is more or less tribalism. however, tribalism has a run in the extreme right who hate the state bureaucracy because it confers advantages on disenfranchised minorities that dominant groups want to keep for themselves. i believe it was in “beyond good and evil” that Nietzshe said “it is the PEOPLE not the COLD MONSTER OF THE STATE!” Max Stirner said much the same thing.

  4. Humans are essentially computers in a giant network called society. To best harness their potential they should be at liberty to act according to their own interest. If you attempt to centralize human behavior through legislation and government then you remove the ability of these individual computers to make decisions, and thus bottleneck the decision making around one central computer. This is the difference between serial processing and parallel processing. As you may have noticed single-core serial processors are now being replaced by multi-core parallel processors.

    The Internet itself is an example of distributed computing. It would be impossible to centrally direct the production and content of websites on the Internet, at least not without destroying the very attributes that make it so special and powerful.

    • joe says:

      i think the problem is our interests are not necessarily in sync. i mean, my boss would want the most work out of me for the least money.

      here’ a question – what if a person WANTS to act in their own interest but does not have the means to do so? an example might be someone who is poor who obviously knows that their kids aren’t going to get ahead without an education. or someone who is poor who wants to buy real groceries for their kids but can’t get them at the only convenience store around the corner?

      it’s in that convenience store’s interest to stay there (along with McDonalds) and not yield that ground to providers who would better serve the community. unless the community has money, it can’t be guaranteed that its preferences will matter.

      anyone’s ability to act in their own self-interest is highly circumscribed by what other people have already done in their own self-interest.

  5. Bill Jones says:

    Hate to be picky, but last time I looked it was Grand Central Terminal, not Station.

    • Administrator says:

      Pickiness appreciated! Indeed, you are so correct. I’ve changed the title and reference to the location as a result.

  6. James M says:

    I was reading an article about a guy from South America, no stop signs and no traffic lights but the traffic runs like clockwork. Maybe they should set up some stop signs and stop lights to slow down the flow in Grand Central. Why let one person decide to stop and let traffic flow in any direction when we can have some idiot politician pay his friends company to install some detrimental signs and lights. I love sitting at red lights for ten minutes every morning while no cars are crossing the empty intersection and there are twenty cars behind me waiting like idiots. James

    • Haha exactly James. I believe a study was done that achieved similar results in Europe with removing all traffic signs and regulations. The accident rate went down and people drove more slowly when appropriate with greater care.

      On a different but related note Portugal has abolished all of their drug laws for the past 8 years or so and they found that drug usage and addiction went down. Of course some naysayers predicted absolute doom for the country with all sorts of “drug tourism” but nothing of the sort occurred. Portugal didn’t do this out of some love for liberty, but rather the necessity of economics: the government couldn’t afford to pay police and court bureaucracy to prosecute their drug war, so they just threw in the towel and gave up. It won’t be long until the US and Mexico have to do the same, else they risk facing an overpowering drug lord insurgency and dissolution of government in Mexico.

  7. It was very rude of me to post about Government By Contract without first commenting on this wonderful article. I will plead that the excitement of finding this very interesting site, and my own enthusiasm for the topics written of here, overwhelmed me.

    There is a tremendous beauty in the beehive activity in Grand Central Station, in the unchoreographed movement of so many people, getting from here to there with a minimum of conflict. It is the same beauty one sees in the notion of the “free” market. People buying and selling, prices moving up and down, need finding fulfillment, equilibrium arriving amid the chaos. So many people misunderstand the meaning of the word “free” in “free market”: the free flow of information that passes through the market as buyers and sellers agree on the right price for each of them, providing suppliers with knowledge of what is needed, and how much, and so on. Given the capacity of human beings for pettiness as well as true evil, the fact that both the free market and Grand Central Station function as well as they do is a testament to what is good in humanity. Common courtesy, as the author says, or prehaps more appropriately (given the name of this site), civility; there is hope for human society based on what happens every day in Grand Central, and places like it around the world.

  8. Mirza says:

    This is nothing than pseudo-economic mysticism. This is the blind belief that if left alone, problems will magically solve themselves and any problems that do exist now are the fault of government. To see that this is wrong, I do not have to go to Somalia. All I really need to do is to look at an inbox of one of my email accounts and see hundreds of spam messages. It would also be easy to look up one of those videos in which otherwise civil people lose all sense of decency because some store is selling everything at 80% off.

    Free market is a great solution to many problems, but it is not the solution to all problems. Free market will provide fresh fish to all the supermarkets in the country, but it free market will not prevent fish stocks from being over-fished to a point of depletion. There are well known instances in which free market fails and one only needs to read the introductory book of economics to see that.

    • Bill Sander says:

      Sorry Mirza, but your economic ignorance is pretty clear here.

      If you are getting spam today it’s your fault for not using one of several excellent, privately provided, spam blockers. gmail is nearly flawless. I never get spam in my company e-mail. your spam argument is straw-man, at best.

      and what, I ask, can the government do to stop “otherwise civil people” from going nuts at a clearance sale… aside from pointing guns and yelling now? again straw-man.

      If a fisher gets fished to depletion than the fishermen will be punished by having no fish to catch, i.e. no work… additionally, if there remains a demand for fish after a given fishery has been “depleted” who says there will not be a free market effort to either restock it, or find an alternative source?

      Any well known instance of a “failure” of free market can most likely be tracked back to a gov regulation that keeps the free market from working correctly.

    • I’m afraid your wrong Mirza.

      “Free market will provide fresh fish to all the supermarkets in the country, but it free market will not prevent fish stocks from being over-fished to a point of depletion.”

      The reason why those fish stocks are fished to depletion is because they are on public property. Compare instead a fish farm – fish on private property are considered a renewable resource where the owner is able to control who gets the fish, thus he cares about keeping the population stable.

      The answer is not more government control, it is abolishing government control and granting private property.

      Watch this video – Privatise the elephant:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QouamYWL6vc

      • joe says:

        the free market also gets toys painted with lead into the mouths of children because of our fundamental right to import from other nations (no protectionism!) and a lack of government oversight.

  9. How to limit government? Isn’t that the big unanswerable question? Clearly, the one answer that will NOT work is politics. Republican democracy has had a great run, but it’s over. The end is very near. (In your minds eye see me with long white robe, flowing white beard, and a homespun “End is Near” sign.)
    So, what to replace it with? Chaos? Anarcho-capitalism? Fascism? To answer the question (am I bold or what?!) let’s deconstruct the problem.
    Thinkers have generally been in agreement these last two hundred years plus that government gets it right to govern by the consent of the governed (as the Declaration of Independence puts it so nicely), yet consent to government is largely implicit. True, the right to vote allows us to change who governs us, but, as been shown time and time again, gives us very little real control over what the governments at various levels do to us, and certainly very little ability to limit them.
    What we need, then, is government by explicit consent, or what I call “Government By Contract”. In this model, each household chooses a party to enter into a contract with. The party contract is for a specific period of time (a year or two), with a specific fee structure. The fees are in lieu of taxes, for the parties of a given territory subsidize and control thereby the government of that territory.
    For more on this: http://governmentbycontract.wordpress.com.

    • The problem with any sort of political party is that is centralizes control in a bureaucracy that cannot be held accountable on a regular basis by the population (and even if it is, since governments issue one-size-fits-all decrees this is defacto mob rule).

      Private businesses on the other hand are accountable every day to their customers. Don’t like Coke? Buy a can of Pepsi instead. Don’t like Ford? Buy a Honda instead.

      The only valid purpose for the law is to protect life, liberty, and private property. Any use beyond that is a violation of human rights.

      http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html

      • BastiatsGhost, I agree with everything you said, but I cannot quite figure out if you are agreeing with what I said. Notice that in my example, parties are not political (no elections) but they are ideological. They operate within a marketplace of parties, where their contracted members are free to come and go (and take their money with them) within the rather lenient terms of the contract, as least in comparison with our “implicit consent” relationship with our governments today. Government By Contract turns government into a free market system, within a legal system of contractural arrangements.

    • joe says:

      so basically, rich people will vote to pay their taxes to a party that will reduce their tax burden and poor people will want to raise their own tax burden so they can get the government services they can’t pay for? for example, i’ve got a decent chunk of cash so i’ll move to an area with other rich people and we won’t pay for public schools or prison education programs or police since we don’t need so much of it?

      and then in some poor neighborhood they’ll want things like more funding for public schools and more police and perhaps other additional programs (like free health care clinics) which would be nice to be available, but nobody will have the money to pay for it.

      this is basically why schools in poor areas suck – local control. localities which have no wealth will stay that way under this plan because they already don’t have the resources to change the problem. places with wealth will reduce their share of funding means by which members of poor communities can escape.

      historically, you can see this in the economic plight of African Americans. freed from slavery but without property or educations, they ended up working on the same plantations – it took quite a long time even before full legal participation was permitted them and during all those years the ability of that demographic to accrue advantages to pass onto their children was severely diminished.

  10. Deuce says:

    I have a friend from India and we often have conversations just like this. While I often feel government is useless, we must keep things in perspective. Of course these many-thousand page bills are ridiculous. Healthcare, CO2 rationing, etc, are fabrications of government out of control. However as my friend often points out in India, where the government is extremely hands off, you have people crapping in the middle of the street, people dumping garbage next to family homes, and people bathing in the drinking water reservoirs.

    This all or nothing mentality that runs the gamut from the extreme left to the Tea Party is the problem. Government can’t control everything, but you can’t deny that this country wouldn’t be the jewel that it is without SOME level of governance and regulation. Yes people move freely through Grand Central, but due in great part to the fact that it has a roof that keeps people dry, highly visible boards that display the train schedules, and trains that run mostly on time. SOME fundamental level of organization is still necessary. But keeping that in mind, the example is still very good. Government that does the most with the least is what we need. A government that provides a roof and a train schedule is fine. A government where a lobbyist escorts each person individually to their train, reading them a commercial the whole time, is more like what we have. However getting back to a more reasonable place is going to take each person taking separating their wants from their needs and promoting a government that serves only the latter.

    Which will be pretty much never…

    • Richard says:

      Deuce,
      Has increasing prosperity in India helped enable private solutions to many of the problems you describe? Are those problems worse in the poorer areas of India? Do prosperous people seem to be able to solve these problems in their own neighborhoods? Of course we care about the poor; watching how the rich solve their problems can give us ideas how to help the poor. For example, does anyone dump trash next to a rich family’s house? If not, why not? How much would it cost to duplicate that solution in poor areas? Why is trash collection beyond the means of the poor?
      Those of us over 40 can remember when mobile phones were toys for the rich. The money made from providing mobile phones to the rich financed development of today’s cheap cell phones.

      • joe says:

        the reason the poor can’t solve the problem with the trash you IDIOT is that they don’t have enough money to put any solution into effect other than throwing it out a window.

        the reason you don’t drop trash next to a rich person’s house is that the cops would arrest you. but when a corporation dumps toxic waste near a poor neighborhood its called NIMBY if you object.

    • Public streets are not respected because no one has an incentive to respect them. “That which nobody owns, nobody cares for.”

      Privatize roads (extend people’s property lines into the roadway) and they will have an incentive to care for them.

    • joe says:

      wow, about the only reasonable person i’ve seen post here. there are places where we don’t need regulation (like grand central station) and others where we do.

  11. peter gruhn says:

    Nancy, term limits are you telling me I can not vote as I chose. Please change your mind. Yes, the system has its troubles, but controlling my vote is not in service of my liberty.

    • Deuce says:

      The selfish manner by which you clearly interpret your constitutional rights doesn’t benefit anyone either. Quite to the contrary, it is a bunch of squeaky wheels screaming “me, me!” that have led to the current highjacking of our government. Did you miss the ENTIRE point of the article?

      You will not find an opinion poll where more people were in favor of Obamacare than not. Yet it passed. So the basic premise of your selfish plea is flawed. Your vote is already meaningless and Nancy had nothing to do with it. Quite to the contrary there is a good chance that the guy that YOU voted for was one of many who usurped the will of the majority to curry favor from the pack for his own selfish purposes. So we are all quite unmoved by your feigned offense.

      The Daughters of the American Revolution used to organize the big presedential debates. About a decade ago they gave it up after multiple third party candidates were detained and/or arrested trying to exercise their Constitutional Right to participate in these debates. So now a committee steered by Democrats and Republicans preside over these debates, to MAKE SURE you’ll never see a third party represented. Were you even aware of this Mr. Victim? Is this “in service to your liberty” Mr. Victim? Term limits are a means to an end. That end is PROTECTING YOUR LIBERTY from lifelong usurpers who on a daily basis are stealing rights and choices that you don’t even know have been stolen. So please change YOUR mind. Preferably to the “ON” position. Complaining about a random poster committing some hypothetical crime against you is hilarious, considering that the alternative that you suggest is to keep people in power who have been actively robbing you for decades. Since you’re so familiar with the Constitution you should know that Senator and US Rep were never even intended to be full time jobs. And some of the best we ever had did it as part-timers. Yet YOUR fight for Constitutionality is to plea for the Nancy Pelosis and Dennis Kucinichs of the world to be afforded more control over our lives than Thomas Jefferson gave himself. Thanks but no thanks.

      THAT is the mentality that is ruining this country. Would you like Obama to rope off a lane through Grand Central for you to prevent Nancy from bumping into you. You clearly must believe this is your Constitutional right as well. You’ve gotten everything else wrong…

  12. Nancy Werany says:

    At commute time outside the terminal is unbelievable. Cars, buses, taxis, people all over. Rarely do you see an accident, perhaps a car honking and a few bad words, but it is truly an amazing sight how so may people and motorized vehices get where they are going pretty well.

    To federal government: Leave us alone, we will take care of ourselves. Term limits will cure these “career politicians” (not public servants) of their addiction to meddling. Free enterprise has been shown to bring up the standard of living of everyone.

    • Term limits discourage politicians from being held accountable as they don’t have to worry about re-election. They will still serve special interests because special interests can bribe them with high paying job offers and whatnot after their term is over. The only loser with term limits are the people who don’t get to vote on the politician at their next primary.

      Instead of imposing term limits we should have shorter terms – that would ensure that politicians are easier to hold accountable on a more consistent basis.

    • joe says:

      i think the problem is that free enterprise tends to bring the standards of living of the people who OWN the enterprises up far far more than those who WORK for them.

      who is this “leave us alone WE will take care of ourselves?” who is this WE? plenty of companies tell minimum wage workers that “we” are in it together while they don’t have health insurance or living wages.

      self-interest and the fundamental problem with people – that they seek their own gain regardless of the consequences to others – requires some degree of regulation, otherwise it’ll just be whoever has the most power moves up, and whoever doesn’t, moves down.

      thomas hobbes anyone?

  13. Michael says:

    The place is called Grand Central Terminal.

    Grand Central Station is the post office next door.

    • Administrator says:

      You are absolutely correct, and considering for years I saw “GCT” on my tickets, I feel ridiculous in making this mistake!

  14. lauren says:

    A succinct and memorable message.

  15. lauren says:

    So true, a succinct and hopefully memorable message.

  16. Administrator says:

    Here’s a great example of simplicity *not* at work with the oil spill:

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/37513995

    CNBC’s Dennis Kneale: “Do you ever think the simpler a solution is, the less likely it is to get attention from a big old company ’cause you don’t have a bunch of computer chips involved, and scoopers and machines?

    CW Roberts Contracting’s Darryl Carpenter: “Yep… most of the time that’s the case. The simple solutions are somehow sometimes overlooked because they ARE simple.”

  17. adrianne says:

    As a former GCT commuter, I can certainly relate. Those rush-hour crowds are awe-inspiring and rather intimidating, but I remember taking a deep breath, plunging in, and everything worked out fine.

  18. Seth says:

    Yes your right job creation is below expectations and our unemployment is still hovering around 10%, but thanks to the thousand page bills, the paper and trash disposal businesses should be doing great. Thanks Congress for printing the bill, but never reading them.

    • joe says:

      funny though, corporate profits are kicking posterior at the same time. i think the reason is that those who control capital can profit without the participation of large segments of the american populace.

      if workers don’t have money, there is no incentive to create jobs since why expand businesses to get the income of workers who already are struggling to make it?

      if we had a robust export business it might be different because in that case capital controlled by the top might be worth using to expand business to serve export markets, drawing US workers who are unemployed or underemployed into the work force or providing them with better employment.

      basically, wages have stagnated for most american workers since the 1980s. that means that businesses or the wealthy or whoever else you call them has little incentive to expand operations domestically since there aren’t consumers with money for them to go after to increase revenues.

      a great way to trigger job creation would be to take a bunch of money from the wealthy and divert it to creating useful jobs for the unemployed. then, they would want to expand their businesses to get back some of the money we lost, and we could fix some of those potholes and get some more teachers in classrooms, all of whom would spend their money in this economy.

  19. John says:

    What a beautiful and pointed example of how left alone large groups of people can figure out for themselves the paths to take them to their destinations abiding by “common courtesy” for their neighbors so that they too shall have equal opportunity to get to where they want to go! This piece should be circulated as widely as possible becuase its message is so easily understood.
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • joe says:

      VERY VERY flawed analogy.

      people only behave decently when they are VISIBLE and would be held ACCOUNTABLE. in a sense, in grand central station everybody is EQUAL – equally visible, equally responsible, equally powerful, and equally accountable.

      you likely don’t get bumped into much when you walk through grand central station, but walk through some dimly lit alley at night and chances are you won’t feel that you are assured of such decent treatment.

      people only behave decently when they know they will be caught in the act of behaving indecently.

      let’s take workplace safety. if i work somewhere and i don’t think it’s safe, i can quit if i want to starve or i can find another job (go try to find one right now :-) even government regulation is likely to be sporadic in terms of inspection and enforcement.

      or what about all that LEAD PAINT on stuff made in china? (and yeah, importing from countries which deny workers basic rights so that we can buy goods made from exploitation is a basic american right.) i mean, yet again, a failure of the market to regulate itself.

      people don’t care about their neighbors and they only did in the past when their neighbors were also white anglo saxon protestants or whatever.

What do you think?

preload preload preload