Monday, November 20, 2006

Idle threat of the week

During our weekend meeting, the panel of judges roundly criticized me for failing to recognize the death of economist Milton Friedman. Luckily, as we sifted through the multitude of threats issued this week, we come across one which could be interpreted as a perversion of Friedman's measured free-market principles.

The European Union has launched a project that, if successful, threatens to do away with all
traffic signs. At first sniff, this seemed like a great idea because traffic signs are annoying and often seem pointless -- especially when they prevent you from going where you want to go. But a more careful analysis finds when the EU says traffic "signs," they also mean traffic "lights." And demarcated lanes. And sidewalks.

The aim of the project is to create streets "like those during the Middle Ages, when horse-drawn chariots, handcarts and people scurried about in a completely unregulated fashion."

So far the project, which depends on "social responsibility," has worked well in the small towns it has been tested, encouraging plans to expand it to larger cities with traffic problems.

While it's not surprising doing away with all traffic regulations hasn't resulted in crippling back-ups and bloody deaths in places without traffic, European motorists and pedestrians won't get off so easily when the signs, lights, lanes and sidewalks disappear in their densely populated city centers.

If the signs come down, because the panel believes cooler heads will prevail and realize deregulation shouldn't be mixed with Utopian thinking.

Either way, the project and its dangerous, unsustainable prospects have garnered Idle Threat of the Week for November 13-19.

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