Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Right to Go Left In a Market Economy

If you think about it, the Moscow roads, or several choice parts, at least, have really become privatized.

Most of the system remains in state hands, subject to government regulation. But a few of the most convenient routes have become a matter of commerce between drivers and the local militia.

Consider where the GAI man stands. He does not stand in such a way as to direct traffic or prevent accidents. Rather, he is positioned at the handiest left turns. Consider also that he does not stand at such a point to prevent you from making that turn; he is usually deep within the street so that drivers cannot see him until well after they have committed their particular transgression. His mission is not preventive; it is revenue-enhancing.

One particular left-hand turn, near Pushkin Square, comes to mind. It is not a dangerous left, since when the light is green, no cars can be coming on the perpendicular road. All you have to do is wait until there are no cars heading from the opposite direction, and then choose when to make your left. It is a normal decision that drivers make everywhere, millions of times a day.

But the government, in its paternal benevolence, has decided to save its subjects from the confusion of such choice and has made that left turn illegal. That is, unless you pay the toll to the traffic cop.

Consider for a moment the lack of signals to a driver that this turn is illegal. There is no actual left-hand arrow with a red slash through it plainly telling the driver "Don't make this left".

Rather, there is a blue circular sign with a white arrow on it telling drivers they may go straight. This process may be used in the West to an extent, but it is the predominant way in Russia of indicating "no". The trouble is that it requires unwarranted and even dangerous deduction the part of drivers. Here's how it works:

Driver's Question: May I go left? Sign: You may go straight. Driver: But I want to go left. Sign: You may go straight. Driver: Oh, I get it. Since I can only go straight therefore I may not . . . BOOM . . . (the driver gets in an accident while in the middle of thought. )

This process tells a lot about Russia's system of governance. From the propiska in the passport that tells Russians where they may live to the arduous permissions required to sell property, the road signs continue a tsarist tradition of paternalism that was embraced and expanded during the Communist era. All rights are reserved to the state unless otherwise and explicitly doled out to its subjects.

There is no right to make a right, unless the government gives you that right.