How We Create the Wealth of Nations
Chapter 11: Parkinson’s Law of Traffic
This chapter concerns Parkinson’s Law of Traffic – a striking example of the dysfunctional and destructive side-effects of a particular business and government innovation. When I was young, car journeys took a long time and I was not a very patient passenger! Then one year, my father said that the journey would now be quicker because of the new ‘motorway’. That sounded pretty good news to me! Before long, however, we learnt that motorways were not always the super-efficient highways that we hoped they would be. While they were relatively empty in the early years, the level of traffic soon increased, so that at peak times, and in the holiday season, they could be seriously congested. Moreover, it only took one accident to create a massive tail-back of many, many miles. Some people suggested that new motorways create new traffic. Indeed, it was suggested that the famous Parkinson’s Law (‘work expands to fill the time available for its completion’) has a corollary. Parkinson’s Law of Traffic states that ‘traffic expands to fill the available road-capacity’. This suggestion was met with much amusement in some quarters. The ‘official line’ remained that roads do not create traffic: the growth of traffic was simply evidence of just how much latent demand there was for long-distance road travel. But, on the contrary, Parkinson’s Law of Traffic makes perfectly good economic sense, as we shall see in this chapter.
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