On the island of Nantucket, there is not one traffic light. We have roundabouts and Stop Signs and duck and pedestrian crossing areas. At four or five corner intersections you need to be aware of whose turn it is to proceed and when someone is making a left turn or leaving a parking lot, cars stop.
What really gets me though, is how Nantucket drivers treat pedestrians.
Where am I going? To how less government can make us better people.
How Nantucket’s Drivers Treat Pedestrians
Walking or riding my bike, when I cross a busy street, usually the cars stop. All I need do is stand on one side of the road looking like I want to reach the other side. Almost immediately, a driver notices, slows and stops and someone heading in the opposite direction does too. At the same time, I wave a thanks and smile.
Similarly, when driving, I feel good seeing the appreciation from the person crossing the street.
My point? In NYC, pedestrians and drivers are enemies. Traffic lights slow my progress, a pedestrian can be irritating, and no one at a traffic light thanks anyone for stopping and letting her cross.
So too with government.
My Bottom Line: Entitlement Spending
I know my topic is complex and there are exceptions. However, rather like traffic lights, mandated caregiving from government eliminates individual behaviors that create a virtuous society.
During the past, I have written about the incentives created by Nantucket’s lack of traffic lights. But recently, it all became even more meaningful after listening to a Great Courses lecture from Jerry Z. Mueller on Adam Smith and moral capitalism.
Smith believed that market participation develops benevolent traits that spill over beyond commercial life to our society. Yes, the market needs government oversight to preserve freedom and prevent monopoly. But then merchants become free to pursue profits and loyal consumers through honesty, industriousness, punctuality and discipline. One result is an affluence that becomes a springboard for empathy toward others.
And that returns me to traffic lights. When government mandates the welfare benefits of entitlement spending, yes, it guarantees a minimum. However, I believe a society and an island become more virtuous when individuals have the incentive to enjoy doing good.