Parking tickets in Providence, rents for farmers

I got a ticket over a month ago for parking in an unmarked bus stop.

I sent in a letter to the court showing irrefutable photographic evidence that there were no signs marking a bus stop visible from where I was parked. In response, I got a court summons. It’s for 8 a.m. on the Friday of Spring Weekend. The letter also came with an extra envelope, just in case I’ve changed my mind about refuting my ticket. Oh, and for my convenience, I can also pay online or over the phone. Something tells me the city is very interested in seeing more money from my hands go into its groping fists.

I remember a question on one of my exams for David Weil’s Economic Growth class. The question was along the lines of: A farmer works his land, and he has to pay an exorbitant rent to the landowner. He could work his land more productively it weren’t for this rent-seeker. Is the rent inefficient? That is, does it reduce the total size of the pie for society?

I and several others said yes; now the farmer can’t produce as much crop. But the rational answer is that it depends on what his rent money is going toward. If it goes toward buying the landlord booze, then the rent is inefficient. If it goes toward investing in worthy endeavors, there is nothing inefficient about that use of money. Perhaps the size of the pie would even grow.

Let’s be honest. Providence needs to close a budget shortfall, and this parking ticket is more of a desperate tax than a parking ticket. A part of me wants to say it’s okay just to go ahead and pay the ticket — sure it’s $30 out of my pocket, but it’s not like I’m wasting it by throwing it into the toilet.

On the other hand, a growing part of me remembers that test question, and I am beginning to wonder whether this really is the inefficient sort of rent — the type of rent that would do more good for society in my hands than in the irresponsible ones of the city. Just something to think about.

I’d also be curious to know how many people take off from work or school to attend 8 a.m. court over a $30 parking ticket. That just sounds like extortion to me.