Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Coase Theorem Applies on 'Amtrak's Quiet Cars

For those of you who worry that our civilization is crumbling, read this NY Times piece about life on the quiet car on Amtrak. You will be introduced to a place that is supposed to be quiet where rules of the game are set and people are supposed to follow them.  Not everyone follows these rules as they endlessly gab away on their cell phones.  The author tells a funny true story of how "rational men" figure out adaptation strategies to minimize the social cost of noise externalities (he doesn't use these words).

Here are the key quotes:

"“I’m not talking about cellphone conversations,” he said, “I’m talking about your typing, which really is very loud and disruptive.”
I was at a loss. I learned to write on a typewriter, and apparently I still strike the keyboard of my laptop with obsolete force. “Well,” I said, trying to figure out which of us, if either, was the jerk here, “I don’t think I’m going to stop typing. I’m a writer; I sit in here so I can work.”
He was polite but implacable. “If you won’t stop, I’ll have to talk to the conductor,” he said.
Looking around, I saw that the Quiet Car wasn’t crowded; there were plenty of empty seats. “I’m not going to leave the Quiet Car,” I told him, “but since it’s bothering you, I will move to another seat.” He thanked me very courteously, as did the woman in front of me. “It really was quite loud,” she whispered.
When the train came to my stop I had to walk by his seat again on my way out. “Glad we could come to a peaceful coexistence,” I said as I passed. He raised a finger to stay me a moment. “There are no conflicts of interest,” he pronounced, “between rational men.” This sounded like a questionable proposition to me, but I appreciated the conciliatory gesture. The quote turns out to be from Ayn Rand. I told you we talked like this in the Quiet Car."