The economics of traffic fines

by on February 20, 2007 at 12:53 pm in Law | Permalink

A few weeks ago I expressed skepticism of studies showing that the modern world is not much happier than times past. Unlike Arnold Kling, however, I do not reject the implications of happiness research altogether.

The ever-excellent Michael of 2Blowhards.com has now come forward and offered a good summary of what happiness research implies...

“Everyone seems to have a pre-programmed “set point” for happiness — a level of happiness they’re genetically programmed for, and to which they’ll always tend to return. There isn’t much that can be done to change this set point.

Genetics and inheritance seem to be responsible for as much as half your tendency towards happiness or unhappiness.

Even huge positive changes in a person’s life — getting married, winning the lottery — only affect happiness levels for about six months.

The rich are certainly happier than the abject poor. But for most people, more money doesn’t tend to lead to much additional happiness, at least once basic material needs have been met.

Three of the hardest things to cope with emotionally are widowhood (or widowerhood), longterm unemployment, and caring for a sick loved one.

The best way to deal with a case of severe, long-lasting unhappiness is to take a mood-boosting pill. In many cases, a six-month course of treatment will effectively jolt the depressed person out of his or her rut.

Pursuing sex and status don’t make people happy. They’re things that we, being human, do — but they don’t necessarily lead to happiness. [TC: What if they conducted these happiness surveys *during* the act?]

People who are forever chasing after happiness — who crave blasts of euphoria — tend to be much less happy than people who are willing to let life (and their moods) take their own course.

Some tips for being happy:

If your job isn’t especially rewarding, pursue a hobby you love, one that delivers experiences of “flow.”

Don’t focus too much on making money and buying things.

Maintain a wide variety of friendships, and don’t spend too much time alone.

Cultivate gratitude and forgiveness, including forgiveness towards yourself.

Don’t try to feel great all the time — that’s not the way life works.”

My take: The conventional (academic) wisdom underrates money, status, sex, and marriage. [Could it be that academics do not always get these goods, and thus hope to manage their expectations and feel better about their failures?] As pure “ends in themselves,” they can be a mixed bag. But if you can pursue them in a meaningful way, enjoy the process, and meet with relative success…well…you won’t forget Oscar Wilde: “The only thing worse than being famous is not being famous,” etc.

Here is Michael’s full post, replete with useful happiness links at the end.

Here is some earlier advice from MR guest-blogger Bryan Caplan, who recommends “gratitude journals.” And here are some philosophical ruminations on happiness and utilitarianism, from Will Wilkinson.

jp February 20, 2007 at 1:21 pm

“The farther the residence of a driver from the municipality where the ticket could be contested, the higher is the likelihood of a speeding fine, and the larger the amount of the fine.”

This is consistent with the observations James Q. Wilson made in “Varieties of Police Behavior” (1968).

eriks February 20, 2007 at 4:24 pm

I would think the size of the town also matters. Smaller towns generally seem to give larger fines, though this may be the “distance” effect rather than a small town effect.

Darren February 25, 2007 at 2:32 pm

I agree that police officers do tend to issue higher fine when both the driver is out of state and when the driver has a high opportunity cost of taking the ticket to court. I also see that a driver’s record determines how much of a fine he or she will receive. If a driver has already received a ticket, then I would think they will receive a more extensive fine. But if an officer sees that the driver is likely to take the ticket to court, the officer will issue a higher fine that way the opportunity cost would be much better for the offender to just pay off the ticket rather than pay for court fees also. The best thing anyone can do is just to drive the speed limit and then you don’t have to worry about any of this.

Meagan H February 26, 2007 at 4:45 pm

I think that economics has a lot to do with the speeding ticket process. I also agree with this concept, especially when it mentions the fact about out of town and out of state drivers being more likely to get speeding tickets. These out of town drivers are less familiar with the roads and when spotted by an officer they are more likey to be pulled over and given a ticket. These drivers are more than likely not going to want to appear in court over the expensive ticket so they just pay it off. I agree that this is a prime example of opportunity cost. They would rather give the ticket to a driver out of town and receive more money for the ticket.
I don’t think that out of town drivers should be penalized more because they are not aware of the speed limits on unfamiliar roads. I’m glad I did read this article because I never thought of tickets being associated with economics, but now it makes perfect sense.

Mallory March 12, 2007 at 10:09 pm

Although I never really considered it before, I do completely agree that economics comes into play when dealing with speeding tickets. But there are also many factors that are involved: the state, the police force, the area, wealth, etc.

jad games February 9, 2010 at 1:05 pm

thank you very much for this article

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