With bombogenesis hitting the East Coast, many of us will be shoveling the snow that buried our parked cars. After finishing, do we just pull the car out and leave a gift for the next occupant of the spot?
The answer relates to our neighborhood’s definition of private property…and the law.
In areas of NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, local tradition says you can deposit a marker in the middle of a shoveled parking space. Claiming “winter dibs,” you get temporary ownership of the spot. For how long? It depends on your block’s “rules.” Maybe 48 hours.
The marker could just be a garbage pail or two chairs. Or, you could get more creative:
One big problem though is that NYC’s Department of Transportation prohibits winter dibs. So too does Philadelphia. (Boston and Chicago have been more ambivalent.)
The Philadelphia police even had some fun with “No Savies” videos:
Our Bottom Line: Property Rights
It is all about property rights. Centuries ago John Locke said that when we mix our labor with a state of nature, common property becomes private. In the U.S., Alexander Hamilton knew that a market economy required a contractual system that preserved property rights.
But we do have tradeoff. Property rights are exclusionary. What could have belonged to everyone now belongs to an individual or a firm. On the other hand, property rights create productive incentives. Because of winter dibs, more spots are shoveled more thoroughly.
I guess even winter dibs returns us to the timeless economic debate between equality and efficiency.
My sources and more: We last looked at winter dibs three years ago so I hoped to find an update. It is still around. Phillyvoice had a new video and Thrillist reviewed the unwritten rules in Chicago. I even discovered a court decision that related to dibs.
Please note that we have used a similar Bottom Line in a past econlife post.