So let's quickly reflect on safety and consider how it might be improved. Start with Shanghai and its swelling population of bumper car drivers, who jump lights, switch lanes and break other rules with abandon.
Then take the city's 3,000 traffic assistants, recruited from the ranks of shriveling state owned enterprises. Their job, as best can be deduced from observation, is to keep pedestrians from jaywalking, and cyclists and bikers from crossing the stop lines. Their job, then, is to enforce the rules on red lights, and they do it with rigor as their constantly shrieking whistles attest.
The problem is these citizen deputies slip into SOE command mode the moment the lights turn green. Because the job description does not apparently cover protecting pedestrians crossing on the green signal – inviting them to be mowed down by turning motorists. They simply turn their backs on the situation and chat with anyone who happens by.
Molded in the SOE tradition of waiting for orders, instead of looking for market signals, they are blind to opportunity – the opportunity, in this case, of watching out for people risking their lives. Markets trade as inducements rise and fall. That basic market element needs to be introduced on the intersections of China. And one way to do that is to establish a bonus scheme and gather up data on accidents, district by district, and then set targets on reducing them.
China's traffic assistants will pursue the task as vigorously as they now blow whistles. The streets will be safer and another 3,000 people will have been sold on the benefits of market economics.