The Government Seeks Profit, Too

Florida shortens yellow-light durations, which basically translates to more car accidents, apparently in a bid to increase the revenue generated by traffic tickets, particularly from red light cameras.

Red light cameras are genuinely horrible, but the broader point is the more important one: people tend to think of the government as seeking the greater good (even if one disagrees about how to seek it or what the greater good is), while private-sector organizations seek profit.  And that’s not entirely incorrect, but it’s really far from entirely correct.

Everyone is interested in money.  You can use money to accomplish your goals, so even if your ostensible purpose is not profit, there is none the less a powerful incentive to seek profit.  Governments do it.  Not-for-profit corporations do it.  Everyone does it.

And to some extent, that’s okay and great.  We would like the government to, for example, sell or rent its assets at a competitive rate (unless a cheap sale or rent is the explicit point, with the goal of subsidizing the buyer or rentor).  We would like to government to be cost-conscious and to avoid waste.

But fines and penalties are particularly problematic.  Their ostensible purpose is to punish, not to raise revenue, but the fact that they do raise revenue — and potentially a lot of revenue, especially in the modern day, with automated fine generation like red light cameras — creates a powerful incentive, which, as collateral damage, can involve punishing a lot of people who do not necessarily deserve punishment.  Or, in the case of red light cameras, can actually involve making the streets less safe in order to bump up revenue.

This is something you should keep in mind any time you propose an increase in the government’s power to punish.


4 thoughts on “The Government Seeks Profit, Too

  1. Pingback: Legal Theft | Sandor at the Zoo

  2. Pingback: The Rise of Total Enforcement | Sandor at the Zoo

  3. Pingback: Seeking Profit in Student Loans | Sandor at the Zoo

  4. Pingback: Are Speed Limits an Exception? | Sandor at the Zoo

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