Snowbound cars Property Rights for Shoveling

Winter Dibs: The Reasons That Shoveling Makes That Parking Space Yours

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 14, 2014

If you’ve shoveled your car out of a snow mound, is that parking space yours?

Called “winter dibs” in Boston and Chicago, the answer is, “yes.” You just leave a chair, a pot or some item to reserve the space when you are not using it:

Winter Dibs Property Rights

Winter dibs infuriates some people. They say that city parking belongs to everyone, that the streets are free and, “You leave it, you lose it.” According to former NY Times Ethicist Randy Cohen, “Shoveling out your car is simply the price you pay for storing your private property in our public space.” If we adopted the winter dibs concept, people would even claim the sidewalk was theirs after clearing its snow.

A University of Chicago economist disagrees. Citing a John “Lockean” defense, she says that by investing labor, you create temporary property rights that add to your private “wealth” for several days and also help society. Because of “dibs” the number of shoveled spots increases. And, just like no one washes a rental car, you do a better job when the space is yours–far better than a city plow would have done. We could even say (as did a Northwestern law professor) that the invisible hand is “hoisting a snow shovel.”

I suspect that “winter dibs” is really about efficiency vs. equality and the power of the invisible hand.

Sources and Resources: Because people on both sides of the “winter dibs” debate feel so strongly, the articles are great reading. I recommend taking a look at Slate, “In Defense of Dibs,” econlib’s “Snow Job” and “Meathead City: Winter Parking ‘Place Savers’ and other Primitive Behavior.” My picture was from BusinessInsider.

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