A View for All

A student says his family owns some property in rural East Texas.  The property on a hilltop next to it overlooks my student’s pond.  His neighbor says he really enjoys sitting on his porch watching the sunset over the pond.  The student’s family doesn’t benefit from the pond’s positive externality — they have no view at all. 

His father, who was annoyed by the neighbor’s bragging, decided to stop trimming the bushes around the pond. Soon, the neighbor called up and offered to maintain the property — trim the bushes and keep the pond free of rubbish.  A clever ploy by his father to force the neighbor to internalize the externality — although I wonder whether this induced behavior represented a stable equilibrium.  (HT: SF)

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  1. Tom B. says:

    Seems rather passive-aggressive. Wouldn’t it have been more neighborly to have asked the neighbor to help with pond maintenance?

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    • Mariah says:

      I don’t think that was the point…

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    • Patrick says:

      Ask? Then it is not an exchange, then it becomes a favor or a gift. Gifts are OK but exchanges are better. In a gift only one party benefits. In an exchange, both parties benefit. I don’t see this as a trick but the fairest way this issue could be resolved.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
      • James says:

        The problem is that you’re thinking short term. To develop proper neighborliness, you have to think of such favors as a long term investment, that will pay off months or years later.

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    • NZ says:


      I’d love to see how “neighborly” the neighbor would consider that:

      “Excuse me, but your view is more scenic than mine. I think you should do some free work for me.”

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1
  2. Rohny S says:

    The answer is phenomenological. The intentionality toward the viewing of the sunset was broken down, this break down was coped with through trimming. This coping will continue transparently for the neighbor until such time as some other event changes how the neighbor processes the situation. This was an instance of the student’s father recognition that someone else had intentionality that worked through something he owned, that he-himself had relatively less intentionality through that thing, and that a coping process undertaken by the father could be taken over by the neighbor if the father ceased that process.

    Economics is one of many consistent, rigorous, repeatable methods of abstracting the phenomenological.

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  3. SamL says:

    It would be an interesting twist if it results in an Adverse Possession claim – it seems to fit most of the criteria and could end up being the father’s word against the neighbor.

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  4. tray says:

    in belgium, you risk getting a fine for lack of maintenance ,

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  5. Felipe says:

    Similar story: Our family had a view of a mountain from our backyard, but they neighbors were too lazy to trim their trees. Every time their trees grew above the sight of the mountain my father paid the neighbors to have them chopped. Maybe they weren’t too lazy but rather they knew that we would pay the price to have the view.

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    • Chris says:

      Rather than “lazy,” the homeowner is simply unmotivated to spend money/time trimming trees or bushes he/she does not need to have trimmed. If the homeowner chooses to trim the trees simply in order to benefit the neighbor, with no personal benefit, we might label that homeowner a fool, a Radical Christian, a mensch, a good person, a Pollyanna…. I agree with the poster above that behavior that is unilaterally giving — one-sidedly nice — is likely to pay positive dividends in unexpected ways in the future. On the other hand, NOT trimming the trees, but being open to letting the neighbor trim them (in essence, yielding some control over your property), also is a giving and neighborly act. Some homeowners might take offense at such a request from a neighbor, but to me, it’s a win-win. (All of this assumes that the untrimmed trees or bushes don’t violate some kind of local law, of course!)

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  6. Arron says:

    Isn’t there some wacky property law in the US where if you voluntarily maintain property that is not yours that there comes a point where you are entitled to it? Did this guy just loose his yard?!

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