Saturday, October 26, 2013

Noise Pollution: Then and Now

So you think we have a lazy time
You should know better
--Quiet Riot

Interesting article about efforts to catalogue noise data collected by the Noise Abatement Commission in NYC in the late 1920s. This video provides a sense of the roving 'noise collector' of the time.

The commission was a response to complaints about noise. One result of the studies was this taxonomy of city noise:

Noise is an example of a negative externality. A's activities produce a racket that interferes with B's pursuits. If it can be reasonably demonstrated that B's pursuits have been impaired by A's activities, then B has the right to defend his pursuits against A's interference.

B might negotiate with A. For instance, B might ask A to tone it down.

If that doesn't work, then B might call the police with a 'disturbing the peace' complaint.

This is an appropriate role for government. When negative externalities can be demonstrated to invade an individual's property rights, then government can assist the individual in defending those rights.

The problem is that government often abdicates its role here. Like other types of pollution, invasive noise is often seen as an unpleasant but necessary consequence of 'progress.' In the mid 19th century, courts began shifting their views pertaining to nuisance and negligence from protecting individual property rights to favoring 'the public good.'

Such rulings effectively legalize pollution, and reduce markets incentives for devising entrepreneurial solutions for reducing unpleasant externalities such noise pollution.

The proper response for NYC government was not to commission a public works project to study noise with aims of scientifically reducing it. That is the job of entrepreneurs who see opportunity in developing solutions to noise pollution. Government's role is to protect B from invasion by A.

This is why, despite an octave or two of difference in the car horns, pile drivers, and elevated trains of 1929, the sound of today's NYC streets largely remain the same.

1 comment:

dgeorge12358 said...

God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.
~Mother Teresa