The Brat Noise Project

March 23, 2008

The next step the Kansa Society must take has become clear. No, it’s not the t-shirt.

Dinner with the girlfriend,  while excellent (mostly because it was with the girlfriend) was tragically beset by wailing kids. These, it should be pointed out, were not even babies but misbehaved five-year old children. This ravaging of what should be a pleasant and romantic dinner by Bengali brats calls for a solution.

The solution, the girlfriend pointed out, is to adapt one of the great triumphs of the modern feminist movement: the Blank Noise Project Unwanted Gallery. The Unwanted Gallery, for those of you who do not know, is a brilliant concept. If someone harasses you, you photograph them with your handy mobile phone camera, and upload the picture to the gallery. This is strong for the following reasons:

  1. It removes the criminal’s anonymity, imposing costs on street harassment for the first time (well not the first time, because there has always been angry-mob-with-chappals, but honestly, how often does that happen in real life?)
  2. It puts control of the situation into the harassment victim’s hands, instead of having to rely on either a mob or a policeman
  3. It uses cellphones, which appeals to me as a telecom and technology geek
  4. It’s an amazing example of the fundaes described in David Brin’s The Transparent Society, and again this appeals to me as a sousveillance geek

So there. But as we shall see, these fundaes can be used not only as a weapon against sexual harassment, but also against evil parents who bring their spoilt children out, to devastate the peace and tranquility of shared public spaces. Just as there is a rogues gallery of eve-teasers, the Kansa Society can create a Rogues Gallery of misbehaved children. Any time a screaming kid is seen in public – whether in a train, a plane, a cinema, or a restaurant – public spirited Kansa Society members (or indeed, anybody who sympathises with the ideals of the Kansa Society) can photograph the juvenile, send the photograph to the Kansa Society, and rest assured that the misbehaving child will spend the rest of its days knowing that its crimes have been exposed to the world at large. Slowly but steadily, public misbehaviour by children will become stigmatised, and parents will learn not to bring them out into public. A Utopia will be created, all thanks to the Kansa Society.

It is time for the Brat Noise Project to take wing.

Coase and Kansa

November 22, 2007

On the flight back to Bangalore from Delhi, I was on seat 16D. There was a kid on 16C. There was another kid on 14C. And yet another somewhere around row 20. And they all howled through the flight.

Howling kids are always annoying but the problem is even worse on a flight. You can’t walk away to a quieter place. The kid can’t be taken away to a quieter place. You’re basically trapped listening to the howling kid.

In many ways, the situation is the reverse of Alex Tabarrok’s flu vaccination:

People who have the flu spread the virus so getting a flu shot not only reduces the probability that I will get the flu it reduces the probability that you will get the flu. In the language of economics the flu shot creates an external benefit, a benefit to other people not captured by the person who paid the costs of getting the shot. The external benefits of a flu shot can be quite large. Under some conditions each person who is vaccinated reduces the expected number of other people who get the flu by 1.5.

Since a large fraction of the benefits of the flu shot, perhaps even a majority of the benefits, go to other people and not to the person paying the costs, the number of people who get a flu shot in the United States is well below the efficient level.

In the case of Alex Tabarrok’s flu vaccination, there was an external benefit. However, in the case of howling kids, there is an external cost. The kid is suffering, but the kid’s howling makes all the other people in the aircraft suffer more.

What are the implications? Well, Alex Tabarrok is asking people who are benefiting from the positive externality to send him money to compensate him for creating the externality:

I just had my flu shot. Please send your checks to my George Mason address.

I only got the shot because, as you well know, I’m altruistic. I care about you. But do send your checks, that will help.

Applying the situation in reverse, the parents of the howling kid should give all the other passengers money to compensate for the suffering they have inflicted on them through their inconsiderateness. This has staggering implications. If each of the passengers is to be compensated 500 rupees for the suffering they have endured, that raises the cost of carrying a kid on board by 9 kilorupees. The best way to implement this would be to make the price of the ticket for a kid 9 kilorupees – in sharp contrast to Simplify Deccan’s abominable policy of letting infants travel in laps for only a 250 rupee surcharge- and give all other passengers a five hundred rupee discount or rebate.

Alex Tabarrok also says:

Of course, we know from the Coase Theorem that there is an alternative approach. We could charge people who do not get their flu shots. (Thus, if you haven’t had a shot you must still must send me a check.) Or to reduce transaction costs we could fine people who get the flu.

The equivalent of the fine in this case would be making the cost of the ticket for the kid 9000 rupees, but not distributing the extra money to the passengers. That would still have the beneficial effect of making it too expensive to carry your kid on board a flight.

Of course there is a way to cut out transaction costs entirely. You can bring in the Kansa Society, which will slaughter the kid. No howling, and no worrying about surcharge transfers. Oh sacred simplicity!