Where’s Ronald Coase when you need him?

Dozens of weddings, Sunday services, choir practices and even funerals have been disrupted by the increasingly loud music drifting in from outside – often from rival buskers trying to outdo each other from separate pitches on either side of the church.

Choristers at the Abbey and workers in surrounding offices say they have resorted to wearing earplugs to block out the sound which continues for around eight hours a day at the height of the tourist season.

Rev Mason said the stress levels of the Abbey musicians, who regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 and perform concerts overseas, have been driven higher by the constant performance of a small repertoire of songs ranging from cover versions of hits by Simon and Garfunkel or Simply Red to flamenco music and opera favourites.

The Abbey has agreed a special “traffic light” system with regular buskers, alerting them to moments of quiet and special services during which most have agreed not to play.

But, Rev Mason said, a handful of the loudest performers have refused to cooperate, driving the Abbey’s centuries-old musical tradition to “crisis point”.

Knowing the place as well as I do I can confirm that this is a real problem. Physical violence would be an attractive solution to the problem if the reprobates but sadly, we’re not supposed to do that. The actual answer is simply to treat the entire Abbey churchyard and the Abbey as one single pitch. Rather than what it is now, which is three (the south year, the west, and the Abbey itself). And thus, if everyone regards it as one pitch then there will be, whether by regulation or general agreement (seriously, buskers are pretty good at protecting and allocating pitches, (there’s even an economics professor with personal experience of this)) agreement about who gets to have a go on that one pitch at any one time.

16 comments on “Where’s Ronald Coase when you need him?

  1. This leaves me at a complete loss. In modern England, where there’s a law for everything, is there seriously some kind of Right To Busk? There never used to be.

  2. Amplifiers should simply be banned in public (or require a licence). Their noise is a negative externality vastly disproportionate to the small private benefit they confer.

  3. I can’t believe the modern Anglican church is getting touchy about such unprogressive things like property rights and peace and quiet. What sort of uptight squares are these people?

  4. Andrew M
    September 23, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Amplifiers should simply be banned in public (or require a licence). Their noise is a negative externality vastly disproportionate to the small private benefit they confer.

    Just ban them. If people want to listen to these buskers they can go and listen close up, I object to what I am listening to (Usually Economist in audio, Cato daily podcast, Planet Money etc) being drowned out and having to rewind.

  5. Ian B,

    I think the change happened when the sort of boomers who were grew up going to Glastonbury got jobs running councils, and thought that free expression was right, even if it meant annoying other people.

    I’ve always disliked busking. It’s musically crap, mostly. But above that, it’s the imposition. That if I’m going to stand in a public space that I’ve got to listen to your crappy version of Wonderwall or a pan pipe version of Hotel California. We all have to listen to this crap for the sake of the tiny number of morons that like it and throw a few coins to them.

  6. Tim

    Is the “Abbey Churchyard” run by the Authority or the Abbey?

    Is it c-osed and run by the Bath Auhorities.

    Don’t see why they need a red-amber-green system. Service patterns are defined and there’s a damn great notice board.

    Don’t buskers have watches?

    Matt

  7. Andrew M – “Amplifiers should simply be banned in public (or require a licence). Their noise is a negative externality vastly disproportionate to the small private benefit they confer.”

    And there is the artistic issue to consider. I do not believe that those who use amps and a backing tape of some sort are actually playing the music. I have a niggling suspicion they are miming and it is all on the back up tape. For reasons of artistic integrity, they should be forced to go acoustic.

    And I am with Lord Vetinari on the subject of mimes.

    Rob – “I can’t believe the modern Anglican church is getting touchy about such unprogressive things like property rights and peace and quiet. What sort of uptight squares are these people?”

    I am sure the Bible has something about property rights for me and not for thee. Somewhere at the beginning I would guess.

  8. The Stig, responding to IanB raises an interesting point. Back in the day of the early Glastonburies & the festival movement, the authorities seemed to find limitless powers to curtail music. Totally unimpeded by whether such activity was occurring on private property with the consent of the owners. And I can well remember the abrupt survival rates for attempted busking in Central London.
    Brits gained some legitimate freedoms no-one’s mentioned? Doesn’t seem likely.

  9. Seems to me the solution in Bath is just for the bish (or whatever he is) to come outside in full regalia and stand next to the busker with a sign saying ‘do not donate: disrupting services’ or some such.

    Round here, we recently had a sort of fake busker try and set up shop with an accordion. They clearly only knew just enough to play the same two or three phrases over and over again, so it was incredibly annoying. I don’t think anyone gave them anything anyway, but I’m also pretty sure that at a certain point someone had had enough and bribed the local homeless beggars to move the ‘busker’ on.

  10. Dave, deliberately bad busking was one of the categories of beggar George Orwell described in “Down & Out”. It was partly to avoid the vagrancy laws against begging, partly to annoy people into giving them money to go away. Your solution seems better.

  11. bnis,

    “Brits gained some legitimate freedoms no-one’s mentioned? Doesn’t seem likely.”

    What freedoms? The 1994 criminal just act is still in place that stopped raves on private land, but councils just ignore what happens in public spaces more.

    Allowing people to busk isn’t a pro-rights thing, because most people don’t like buskers (if they did, they’d be rich).

  12. The Plod used to have a somewhat less sanguine view of street musicians. Listen to the story that Long John Baldry narrates in “(Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie-Woogie On the) King of Rock and Roll”.

  13. Ronald Coase gets dragged in as usual though he never said there was no place for direct government intervention in disputes as TW implies.In the relevant paper ‘The Problem of Social Cost’ (1960) he writes of problems such as widespread pollution “Direct government regulation will not necessarily give better results than leaving the problem to be solved by the market. But equally there is no reason why, on occasion, such government administrative regulation should not lead to an improvement in economic efficiency. ”
    (See what I did there : used quotations and evidence like an Arts graduate is required to do ? All that reading they have to do!That’s not what university’s for! )
    Lets hope we can see some of Coase’s pro Resale Price Maintenance arguments soon.
    (Very simpatico Coase :even less of a “proper Economist” than Murphy:a turbo-charged Commerce teacher really. None the worse for that.)

  14. Coase pointed out that *sometimes* each solution works. And I pointed out that busker’s pitches have, often enough, had a private solution. As that economist I linked to has written about given his own direct experience of busking on the Underground in the 80s.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.