David Porter on Parking Auctions at Chapman University

Economist David Porter is featured on Reason TV discussing Chapman University’s Parking Auctions.

The video is worth watching, as he’s very engaging, and it’s a pretty cool implementation of auction policies. However, there are a couple of things that I can’t let go without critiquing:

1. I get that he’s trying to be engaging and funny, but I really can’t approve of selecting out quotes from people who participated in the process if you are going to mock those statements. Yes, people say dumb things during policy design and implementation. It doesn’t matter. The ethics of deliberation mean that you don’t get to use occasional lapses in reason or even incivility in others that occur in the deliberation to make points for yourself later, even if you don’t attribute. It’s convenient to use these sorts quotes to show, in an ex poste hero’s journey narrative about your implementation process, how you had to overcome ignorance or criticism to get the program to triumph. Tempting though it is, it’s a bad idea for sustaining the long-term relationships you want to build with a community of people you want to continue planning and building with. Short term win, long-term threat to trust. Porter doesn’t care about that stuff, but planners should.

2. At the end, the problem with auction markets start to become apparent: “well, we need to shift these classes around, and those faculty will be willing to be paid to move to 8 am etc etc.” That is, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you can design perfectly efficient outcomes with auctions, when slightly imperfect outcomes may be good enough when you start to pay attention to the transactions costs. More and more rules, more shifting of activities–all of that starts to get complicated after awhile, and it’s all to serve your auction–a tail wags dog problem. Why not just let the auction prices handle the peak and be done with it?

It just reminds me of Sheldon Cooper’s three-person chess:

(BTW, there’s no way in heck that I would agree to teach at 8 am for $10. My colleagues who are early risers would; for them, the $10 would be surplus payment as they are on campus anyway. You’d need to add two more zeros before I agreed.)