Liberal Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes: The Case for Law Enforcement. (Part 6 of 12)

It could happen that a government feels very comfortable collecting a certain amount of money in traffic fines for crossing a red light. For example, the fine amounts to $1,000 – and the probability of application is 1%. In this way, drivers have little experience of having been fined despite the fact that they know better than the government itself that on numerous occasions “they crossed in the red.” Compliance with the traffic light becomes purely optional, left to the moral criteria of each driver and the immediate conditions of time, people and place that he perceives at the time of crossing (many or few pedestrians on the streets, cars crossing on the other side of the road). the street). If a fine of $1,000 is interpreted as a risk of $10, it is not necessary to have great reasons to decide whether or not to violate the norm. However, 1% of those who crossed with the red light did indeed receive a fine of $1,000, to be executed, let us suppose, by the public authorities on the occasion of renewing the driving license, under penalty of denying said renewal, some years after the violation occurred (with which, the present value of said fine at the time of the event would be even lower). With a minimum expenditure of resources, this particular government would achieve a substantial fundraising, since also the number of transgressors and fines in absolute terms would be much higher than under the circumstance of a greater application of the norm. However, the social purpose of the repressive system is not fulfilled: fines applied in this way do not have a dissuasive effect that contributes to ordering traffic and guarantees the safety and physical integrity of passers-by and drivers.

This is how this “hypothetical government” finds itself in the following trap: the low application of the norm causes that the regulation destined to order the traffic is not effective. In our example, it is common for cars to not respect the red traffic light and consequently accidents occur, resulting in the crossing of streets, both for pedestrians and drivers, dangerous and a source of large losses for individuals. But, at the same time, such an ineffective system to control traffic not only finances itself with fines, but also generates a surplus that represents a source of income for the government to cover other types of expenses. Of course, accidents and danger on the public highway are costs to be assumed by the government and society, with which such a de facto collection system is very likely to be highly inefficient, since it ultimately generates net losses or losses for the government or for society or for both.

However, if a ruler decided to invest resources to increase the degree of application of fines for violations of traffic regulations, it would be found that, in the short term, such a decision would lead to financial loss. Such would be the costs and consequences of increasing the level of application of the rules: if technological devices such as cameras were installed, with expert computer systems that processed the information properly, not only in terms of speed but also in terms of precision on the identity of the offending car, the fines would reach the owners of the vehicles a few days after the occurrence of the offense and the process of discharge and execution of the fine was relatively agile, the drivers, in a short time, would become much more scrupulous in the face of to a traffic light. With all security it could be said that accident rates would drop drastically, resulting in a direct benefit for society and direct and indirect benefits for the government. However, there is an element at the level of government incentives to take into account: obtaining a higher level of regulatory enforcement requires a greater investment of resources and, likewise, will likely result in a drop in the aggregate collection of fines, since it will be processed a greater number of fines for an offense actually committed, but this will generate a change in behavior on the part of the public that will reduce the number of infractions and, consequently, the number of fines in absolute terms.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 6 in a 12-part essay; you can read Part 5 here or read the essay in its entirety here.]

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