Autonomous Vehicles & the Government; a Necessary Partnership or Conflicting Bedfellows?

Capitalism works under the idea that competition is good and the more the government interferes the less capitalism is able to work properly. Monopolies, under capitalistic philosophies (and despite what you may think and/or hear in the media), are bad because they create barriers to competition. Unfortunately, in the U.S., too frequently the government works as agents for big business (this is true of the Democrats and Republicans) and helps create the very barriers to competition that industry needs to move forward. Then, when the inevitable problems arise, capitalism is blamed and further government involvement is promoted.

I’m not claiming the capitalism is the end-all, be-all, or that regulation doesn’t benefit society. But look at the electric vehicles created by the United States’ Big 3 automobile manufacturers (the ones working closely – too closely? – with the government) versus those created by the start-up, Tesla Motors. Government involvement can squelch good ideas.

When I was living in Central California a home insect extermination company came across a product that would spray bug poison into the inside of the walls rather than spraying the exterior of the walls and/or inside the home. The product was revolutionary and safer than what was currently on the market. A local rival, who happened to be on the state’s industry advisory board, got the idea outlawed in the state. Not because it was unsafe, as he argued, but because he couldn’t compete against it.

I lead with all that because I worry about Pres. Obama and DOT’s call for $4billion in spending for Autonomous Vehicle research and funding. Would that funding accelerate the industry’s actions toward solutions? Of course it would. But the problem would be that we wouldn’t reward the companies with the best ideas, our government would reward the companies with the best lobbying.

Then, as the autonomous vehicle industry grew, those same lobbyists would lobby to protect their company and its profits from competition and new (better) ideas. It’s the American way.

Autonomous vehicles offer a lot in terms of highway safety improvements, fuel and other efficiencies, and other gains, but we’re not there yet and getting the government involved isn’t going to help. Further government involvement and greater government debt are not the answers our industry needs.

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