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Criminality and Motoring

Daniel Ikenson has an interesting post over at Cato-at-Liberty about the ordeal he went through after his car was towed in DC. It's written as a story about big bad government and municipal incompetence. But it's also full of ideological holes that are worth noting.

(from tvol on Flickr)

The author opens by describing the parking situation near Nationals Park:
About three blocks from the stadium, there were plenty of legal parking spots along the street and signs indicating how to pay for parking by telephone. It would cost $1.50 per hour or about $10 total – a steal compared to the $30-$40 being charged in the nearby lots. The Pay-by-Phone system was simple enough to use: I registered my tag and my credit card number by phone, and was messaged a “Parkmobile” app to use for loading and reloading the meter from my phone. Sweet and simple!
This is curious because a true libertarian would likely believe that the price for parking should be whatever the market can bear. If the legal government spaces are priced significantly lower than the privately owned spaces, it would suggest that the government is subsidizing those spaces. Any why is the government in the business of providing parking spaces for baseball games anyway? But hey, why pay $30 when you can pay $10, regardless of your ideology?

In the story, the author later comes back to his car to find that it has been towed. And the reason? Because he had outstanding speeding tickets, because he was delinquent on the payments, and because he parked on city property, so they towed his car. He chalks this all up to big government using data in a very efficient manner.
What had happened was that upon registering my tags to initiate the Pay-by-Phone meter service, a database linked to the computer system of the otherwise incompetent DPW generated a red flag indicating the location of a vehicle associated with unpaid fines. DPW acted with dispatch and efficiency to steal my car to hold as collateral, and then with incompetence about locating it and indifference about the enormous inconvenience and expense of the process.
There's some bold rhetoric, but there's a few key things to remember here. 1) if he hadn't speeded and gotten the tickets in the first place, his car wouldn't have been towed; 2) if he'd paid the fines for said speeding tickets, his car wouldn't have been towed; 3) if he'd parked in one of the private (albeit expensive) lots near the ballpark, his car wouldn't have been towed.

Was the situation frustrating? Surely. But it's a straw man that doesn't really get to the heart of the issue. I read this post essentially as a complaint about two things.

First, that the government is too efficient and knows too much about us. The city managed to use parking meter technology, run a license plate through a database, flag the vehicle for having delinquent speedingtickets, and dispatch a tow truck to take it away, all within a matter of hours. They busted a delinquent speeder who otherwise showed no intention of paying his fines.

Second, that the government is not efficient enough and knows to little. Once the author called the dispatcher, they were unable to locate his car. They were awfully bad at logging the towed car into the system and the rep on the phone screwed up pretty royally by giving him the wrong address for the impound lot.

The author closes with this:
And be careful about the allure of technological convenience; it might just be Big Brother waiting to pounce.
Ultimately, is this situation any different than if a parking enforcement officer or a police officer came by, saw the car had been red flagged and called for a tow?

Herein lies one of the biggest internal struggles among libertarians. Is it better to spend more money to have real people do a job (in this case, enforce the law)? Spend less money to have a technological solution? Or should we not care when people break the law and don't pay the price?


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