Thursday, 24 November 2011

Taiwan's Perennial Problem

"The key, like with all traffic rules, is enforcement. If a rule is not enforced, few people will follow it, even if it is for their own good."
The Taipei Times staff editorial today, with the perennial call for greater police enforcement of traffic rules - for your own good.

Empirical question: since Taipei City has stricter traffic rule enforcement than anywhere else in Taiwan, does it also have fewer traffic accidents (note: not fatalities) per 100,000 people than Taiwan's other major cities?

It seems to me there are two reasons why driving in Taiwan is such a problem; the first is that the most dangerous habits people have are psychological and cannot be captured by law; the second is that these habits are culturally ingrained. I have made this case before in a letter last year which the Taipei Times published. You cannot force people to pay attention to the road and think about what they are doing by threatening them with fines and such. The notion that enforcement is "the key" presupposes that accidents are primarily caused by violation of traffic rules, whereas I strongly suspect that the chief cause of accidents is psychological negligence - which would also explain those accidents in which no rules were broken.

If I am right about that, then it follows that greater enforcement of traffic rules will only reduce accidents to the extent that such enforcement coincides with reduced pyschological negligence whilst driving, e.g. if drivers are having to stop and wait at red lights, then obviously they cannot be driving negligently whilst they are so stopped.

Traffic rule enforcement would thus, at best, be a flawed proxy for getting at the real problem of psychological negligence. If increasing such enforcement would be only slightly effective, yet very costly - as I suppose it would be - then surely it makes sense to approach the problem differently via popular education and civic pressure.

Of course, that would carry the implication that the Left must re-evaluate the technocratic Statist premises from which they reflexively jump to the conclusion that all social problems must be solved by spending more money to use greater force.

To abandon that premise is to no longer be part of the Statist Left.


There is a conversation that can be had between small government conservatives and small government classical liberals on the one hand, and the strict constitutionalists, minarchist libertarians and anarchist libertarians on the other hand. All of these people adhere to the basic premises of Liberalism, and that conversation is about how a free society should be constituted, whether there should be a State, and what its functions and limitations ought to be and on what principles they are to be based on, or whether the free market and civil society can produce an alternative institutional architecture based solely on voluntarist principles of cooperation.

Almost the entire mainstream Left cannot be part of that conversation because to them, freedom is either not a priority value anymore, or the assumption that only a behemoth centralized State can efficiently manage society is still treated as axiomatic - in spite of all its' obvious failings - and they therefore do not understand the point of the conversation.

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