Best policy ever?

I’ve been looking for entries into a “Best Policy Ever” contest. This one from Freakonomics will get consideration:

I was in New York City the other day and my taxi cab driver bypassed a long line of cars exiting the freeway to cut in at the last second. As usual, I enjoyed being an innocent bystander/beneficiary to this little crime. But what happened next was even more gratifying to the economist in me. A police officer was standing in the middle of the road, waving every car that cut in line over to the shoulder, where a second officer was handing out tickets like an assembly line. By my rough estimate, these two officers were giving out 30 tickets an hour at $115 a pop. At over $1,500 per officer per hour (assuming the tickets get paid), this was a fantastic money making proposition for the city. And it nails just the right people. Speeding doesn’t really hurt other people very much, except indirectly. So to my mind it makes much more sense to go directly after the mean-spirited behavior like cutting in line. This is very much in the spirit of Bratton’s “broken windows” policing philosophy. I’m not sure it cuts down the number of cheaters on the roads in any fundamental way since the probability of getting caught remains vanishly small. Still, the beauty of it is that (1) every driver that follows the rules feels a rush of glee over the rude drivers getting nailed, and (2) it is a very efficient way of taxing bad behavior.

Here’s the full post.

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