All Commentary
Friday, January 13, 2017

Tickets for Warming Up Your Car Speak Volumes about Power

A Michigan man's ticketing for warming up his car on a frigid day brings to mind something Bertrand Russell wrote on "petty power."

Via WXYZ Detroit:

Did you know you could get fined for heating up your car? One man’s parking ticket has gone viral, with thousands of views after he was ticketed for heating up his car in his own driveway.

Taylor Trupiano says he’s still shaking his head over a parking ticket he got on his own property.

“I thought it was some kind of joke at first, and then I was thrown back by it,” he said. “I was really surprised.”

The ticket was for leaving his motor running while he was not present, something millions of Americans do every winter.

If you’re wondering if police in Roseville are aware of remote starters, I have an answer: They are. The difference, they claim, is that remote starters require vehicles to be locked to operate. Such an exemption seems a bit strange, since it requires police to invade the personal property of citizens by opening car doors (and walking on their private property to do so, in Trupiano’s case) to determine if the vehicle is properly locked. 

Nonetheless, Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said the ordinance makes perfect sense. “Common sense says you don’t leave your car running unattended,” Berlin said.

Most people, I suspect, would view such a ticket as the opposite of common sense and a petty abuse of power. 

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his 1950 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, wrote about the human “love of power” and the natural inclination to abuse power in petty ways once acquired. 

Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates…. [In] any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure.

This wariness of power was an idea shared by America’s Founding Fathers. James Madison once wrote, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

This idea—that humans with power by nature are more likely to inflict pain than permit pleasure—is perfectly demonstrated by an officer ticketing a man for warming his car for a few minutes on a frigid day.

Yet this skepticism shared by Russell and Madison is an idea lost on most Americans today. They object to power—but only when it’s in the hands of someone they mistrust.

Reprinted from Intellectual Takeout.

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.