Friday, April 28, 2006

Noise Is Golden

I hate loudness. Few things are as intrusive as someone pumping up their stereo to some ungodly level or the sound of screaming kids. But I like freedom, more. If someone wants to run around and do those things in their free time, go for it. Just stay the hell away from me.

What's "loud" is of course a relative term. Just like chemicals, it's the dose that makes the poison. And because it's expensive to establish property rights over the air, we enter into a lot of commons problems. This is why it's not so confusing that Turkey bundled their new environmental laws with banning "noise pollution" with a $150 to $4,500 fine if you break the law.

A lot of these laws seem to stem from reasonable logic. A lot of people like silence. A lot of people like clean water. We get those things from a source no one owns, so a law is made to force everyone to comply. No free riding.

Yet this reasoning carries with it an assumption that we live in a world of black and white, right and wrong. In the real world, what's noise pollution to you is natural to me is too quiet for my Great Aunt Esther. Setting absolute standards for all of society, which is needed for laws due to enforcement reasons, ignores the fact that people are different.

A better solution would be to throw out the law and privatize public places. Those that like it quiet can congregate in Park A, where a local rules set the acceptable decibles very low. Noisy people can go to Park B, where it's fine to be louder. Just as some restaurants have a dress code, some places can have a noise code.

Admittedly there's potentially still spillover, especially if Park A is next door to Park B. But banning "noise pollution" all together suggests those in B are worth less than those in A. Laws tell everyone how to live. At least without the law there's the opportunity to discover a way for both parties to be happy. But I guess some people just can't stand knowing others are having a good time.

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