Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Driveway -- Atonement

Hampshire planning regulations: they won’t tarmac the driveway for the six houses in our ‘street’. Gravel is, apparently, more rustic. The picture shows the consequences - not rustic but agricultural.

Our neighbour, Mark, circulated a note suggesting each house should contribute to buy a total of ten tons of gravel to re-cover the driveway. This is not totally cheap, so how ought we to respond?

Elementary economics highlights the ‘free rider’ problem. If five of us decide to go ahead, and the sixth declines, then the sixth house still gets the benefit while incurring none of the cost. The standard social response to free-riding is compulsion by the state (e.g. taxes). However, we are too small a community to have a state of our own ...

Social psychology explains that in informal social groupings, social sanctions are brought to bear against free-riders - ‘your neighbours hate you for ever’. Hmm, that’s not a pleasant thought!

Economics again. The cost might be equal, but are the benefits equally apportioned? If the benefit is improved driveability, then the people at the end of the driveway would surely accrue disproportionate benefit. But in my opinion, it’s preferable to drive on a hard, smooth surface than on gravel - easier on the tyres and less possibilities of chipping the paintwork. Mark’s note was all about appearance, and here we seem to come out equal.

Of course we’ll pay up. Evolutionary psychology ensured we had made all these calculations pre-consciously in an instant!

Note: We duly went to see Atonement down at Salisbury on Sunday. Very well-made film and pretty faithful to the book (already much discussed here on previous posts).

I just have a few, deeply-buried lingering doubts. Is it really anything more than a tale, expertly told by a master craftsman, full - to an extent - of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing?