Friday, July 14, 2006

Social cooperation when governments break down 

One more thought, as I'm testing my post-by-mail connection and some aliasing...

When I moved to St. Cloud in 1984 part of the newcomer lore -- those things longtimers tell the people who just moved to town -- was of a truck driver who was on the Tonight Show.  Carson asks him what the worst street in America was for truck drivers, and like a shot he says "Division Street, St. Cloud."  I have no idea if this is true, but driving that road used to be miserable, with an underpass that flooded often and a strange turn in the middle of it.  It was a road to be avoided, and it's not much better now.  They'll run the Bad Boyz Car Show there this weekend, so it's even more to be avoided.

This spring I was driving with a liberal prof who studies cities about St. Cloud's size and asked him whether there was hope for us not to become like Maple Grove, a MSP suburb that new urbanists think ends every argument over their absolute rightness that all must board trains and live and condos with lots and lots of open space.  "It's already too late," he sighed.  "They could have done something on 2nd Street S., and look there now." 

The worst spot of it has to be the entry into Sam's Club, which is almost inexplicably an unprotected entrance.  Entering into a divided four-lane road that is often backed up for blocks in rush hour, you could easily see people sit there for hours.  But they don't.  Today I watched (involuntarily, caught in traffic) as each car with the right of way yielded to one car without it.  Order out of chaos, tacitly agreed.  When I came to it I did just as the others did.  Perhaps I too was under the sway of the Theory of Moral Sentiments.

I observe this in many places, and expect I will in Mongolia too -- people will create order for themselves without waiting for government to do it for them.  I hope to send you such stories.