From each according to his ability, to each according to his need


From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

 My spies over at Doug Holmes’ great list server, C-park L, tell me that the topic of differing parking fees based on one’s income has raised its ugly head. Seems the local union wants to charge Teaching Assistants and maintenance personnel a lower price for their permit than a tenured Professor or the Dean of Students. (One assumes they make less money that the Profs and Deans.)
This is classic Karl Marx theory and is appropriate that it comes from our hallowed halls of higher education.
The response from one parking chief at a major university with right on the money:

– You don’t want to know everybody’s salary.
– Is it right for you to pay $100 but I pay $50 to park next to you because I make less money?
– Do you pay more for gas at the pump or milk at the grocery?
– Parking is a commodity that costs $X per space to provide.
-Does it cost less to provide the space for the person paying less?

 As noted above, this is the same theory that says that a person making $100k a year should pay $7 a gallon for gasoline and someone making $20K should pay $2. It of course is absurd.
Parking is a commodity like anything else and should be priced based on supply and demand. If you wish to subsidize parking for some, so be it, but frankly we subsidize little else, why start here?
You start down this slippery slope, and where does it end?
The vast laboratory test, running in huge countries, over decades, has shown that this concept simply doesn’t work. The first half works, the second half cancels out the first half.  From each according to his ability, well, OK, but how do you measure that. Human nature must be factored in. If I work my tail off, perhaps I should get a bit more than they slaggard next to me. To each according to his needs – well, there’s the other rub. Just what are a person’s needs?
Under this theory, we would have no private vehicles as long as there was some kind of public transportation. (no need). We wouldn’t need four bedroom houses, because after all, people can survive in one bedroom walk up cold water flats (no need). How about hot water (no need), air conditioning (no need), Television (no need), or that great roast at Christmas, or the Turkey at thanksgiving (no need.) As for Ipods, cell phones, Blackberries (shudder), Digital Cameras, no need.
The failure of government run price setting, centrally controlled societies, like Russia and most of Africa, proves to us that it simply doesn’t work. These countries are in ruins not because they have been bombed out of existence, but because they have fallen on their own sword.
Probably the place where this classic difference in pricing seems to work is on airplanes. I flew on KLM to Amsterdam a few years ago and at some point in the flight four of us were comparing how much this leg of the flight was costing. My ticket was $600, they guy from business class was $3000, the guy in First Class was $12000 and the guy who was flying round the world was paying $7500.
We all were going to the same place, sitting on the same plane. But we elected, for whatever reasons to pay different prices. The decisions were personal, based on comfort, and not much more. Karl was spinning.  The market set those prices, not the government.
It would seem to me we need to have the market set the pricing for parking permits on university campuses. They can vary depending on the location and the time of day and day of the week. Some students that only have classes on one or two days, could pay one rate, TA’s and staff who are there only for their shift could pay a different rate (lower at midnight, more during the normal working day. And professors that need to have a space available at all times so they can come and go at will would pay a higher rate. But that could be their choice.
Don Shoup rides a bicycle so he would pay nothing.
See, if the market sets the rates, it becomes completely fair and the politics and the emotions of the process are removed.
Any institution out there using this method to set prices?

John Van Horn

John Van Horn

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