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New Tech: Government Must Change

The Brookings Institute recently released a report highlighting some of what we’ve already known about our sclerotic local governments: new technologies will undermine much of how they do business, and they are unprepared to accommodate “even the most conservative predictions of the future.” Among the foreseeable technological disruptions that the report explores, the advent of driverless cars may have an especially direct and pronounced impact on local governments:

Consider the following. This past year, the City of Los Angeles generated $161 million from parking violations. Red light violations have a fee of $490. Californians caught driving under the influence are fined up to $15,649 for a first-offense misdemeanor DUI conviction and up to $22,492 for an under-21 equivalent. Cities in California collect, on average, $40 million annually in towing fees that they divide with towing firms. Simply put, the hundreds of millions of dollars generated from poor driving-related behaviors provide significant funding for transportation infrastructure and maintenance, public schools, judicial salaries, domestic violence advocacy, conservation, and many other public services

Driverless cars will be more efficient and safer (and greener!) than regular cars, so they may eliminate much of this revenue. And as for driverless cars, so for many technologies that will come online. They will make much existing governmental structures or procedures obsolete—and governments must change in response. Here’s how Brookings puts it:

We assert that changes on the not-t00-distant horizon will require local governments to be agile, nimble, and dynamic. Governments must contend with an increase in the diversity of stakeholders, limited capacity to predict the future, and an erosion of governing authority. A 20th century approach to governance will not cut it anymore; the outlook for current governance models is exceedingly bleak. Adaptability and recovery from shocks will be increasingly critical. Lean, nimble, proactive government systems must be designed.

It’s nice to see some of the issues we frequently discuss gaining traction. Good governance is a matter of creating smart institutional structures, which function to serve the American public efficiently. The report should serve as a much-needed wake up call to local authorities and to the American public that we must change our approach to governance. Read the whole thing here.

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  • Andrew Allison

    The chances of local governments becoming agile, nimble, and dynamic are slim-to-negligible. As TAI points out on a regular basis, it’s not just traffic-related issues that require a governance. That said, it would be interesting to know what the issuance of all those tickets and collection of the resulting revenue costs, and how the net revenue is actually used (overhead versus infrastructure). Not to be overlooked, incidentally, are the significant social cost of such things as running red lights and DUI.

    • Boritz

      Agreed. However, this article implies that because government lacks nimbleness they are hapless in the face of advances that threaten their revenue stream. I don’t believe this for one minute.
      I’m reminded of my experience a few years ago with satellite TV.
      They asked, how would you like to receive your local channels. No thank you. I have an antenna that works fine for local channels.
      It’s a great deal. Only $5/month.
      No thank you.
      A few weeks later same conversation. No thank you.
      A few weeks later: We are giving you access to your local channels free for one week. Enjoy!
      At the end of the week: How would you like to continue receiving your local channels? No thank you.
      It’s a great deal. No thank you.
      A few weeks later they just added $5 to my bill for no apparent reason (i.e. Just hand over the $5 ya dum sumbitch.)
      Expect government at all levels to be just as couth and, elegant when they need to replace dwindling revenue streams.

      • Andrew Allison

        Agreed. My point is exactly that rather than adjust to meet the reduced revenue, they’ll simply attempt to raise them elsewhere. The nationwide response, or rather lack thereof, on the part of local government to the public employee pension problem is symptomatic.

  • Boritz

    My local newspaper used to publish traffic violations and the fines collected week by week. Our next door neighbor collected a years worth of articles, added it all up, went down to city hall with his calculations and demanded to know how the money was spent. The article was discontinued immediately.

  • fastrackn1

    As much as TAI likes to write about it, I don’t think the driverless car thing is going to happen…at least not in our lifetime….

    • FriendlyGoat

      I agree. The fact that some experimental cars actually work does not portend wide adoption in the real world anytime soon.

      • fastrackn1

        The technology is not the issue, it’s the implementation that is the issue. Imagine trying to make all of this work in the real world. And what about all the existing vehicles on the road?…are they going to be immediately scrapped (people will be paid for them by the government, and bought new by the government), or will existing vehicles be outfitted with the new technology? And who will pay for that?

        And what about when the technology fails and your car plows into a family of 4 crossing the road and kills them? Who will pay you for the permanent psychological damage you now have for killing a family? Or your car suddenly veers to the right and you drive off of a bridge. There is no way this technology will work on millions of vehicles everyday without malfunctions.
        Anyway, this is just the start of what I have thought about as far as the actual implementation of this pipe dream.

        It was fun to watch KITT on Night Rider back in the 80’s, but I find this type of technology a bit creepy in real life….

  • Josephbleau

    Another impact of driverless cars will be the elimination of bounty hunters and warrant servers. Your car will say “I’m not taking you to work today, we are going to the slammer”. Cue click of car locks.

  • Jupiter Caelestis

    Perhaps bloated government agencies should decrease in size in order to make up the difference in loss of revenue.

  • Kevin

    This is naively optimistic. A much more likely trend is that it will develop new ways to extract money from the peasantry and continue growing.

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