It’s a suburban neighborhood, on Sunday morning. There is a three-way stop at which hardly anyone ever goes the other direction than the main one. But you often see a police car in the nearby parking lot, keeping his sharp eye out for evil lawbreakers. These are the dangerous criminals who slow down almost to a full stop that causes the car to shift back the other direction, but don’t quite do this. Instead they do what is sometimes called a "rolling stop" which stops short of full immobilization. The policeman in the car regards this as "running a stop sign," as if you paid no attention to it at all, and he’ll give you a ticket whenever he catches you doing it.
From the policeman’s point of view, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. One recent empirical accounting at this intersection (I dragooned some neighborhood kids into keeping count) observed that more than 9 in 10 people do not come to what the law regards as a "full stop."
I should know about this because, try as I might to be a law-abiding citizen, I have now received my fifth ticket this year at this very intersection one block from my house. That’s not a typo. Five! I know it sounds crazy — why the heck can’t I obey those who are ordained to keep me safe? — but when you consider that I go through this intersection several times per day, I’m actually doing rather well.
It goes without saying that this is a racket. The city is many hundreds of dollars richer because of my penchant for law breaking alone, and probably hundreds of thousands richer if you include everyone else’s.
But it wasn’t until someone drew my attention to this link that I understood the full extent of what this whole racket is about. Yes, it’s about money. But there is more to it than that. You see, it turns out that I’m an archetype, a person who rolls through stop signs in my safe neighborhood and then gets outraged when the ticket is issued and attempts to "fight authority" rather than pay up. So, fool that I am, I actually believe in "challenging the system." I take seriously the claim that I’m innocent until proven guilty. Can you believe the naïveté?
Jeffrey Tucker [send him mail] is editorial vice president of www.Mises.org. Comment on the Mises blog.