Can technology solve political problems?

Some problems lend themselves to technological fixes – but not all.

Los Angeles Times / AP / File
On a clear day, you can see City Hall. In this 1953 photo, Marion E. Lent walks by Spring and 1st streets in downtown Los Angeles, with the nearby City Hall barely visible. Smog – caused by the combination of car pollution and LA's bowl-shaped geography – has been vastly improved by technology, in the form of the catalytic converter. The budget doesn't lend it self to a techno-fix quite as readily.

Recently, there was a LA Times article discussing using technology to slow immigration into the United States. A resident of Laguna Beach wrote the LA Times the following letter; "Note to the Department of Homeland Security, Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and others: Political problems cannot be solved with technology."

In many case, this strong statement is false but it is worth thinking about.

Example #1: Los Angeles Smog --- Los Angeles used to have a terrible smog problem. Too many cars were driving too many miles. In the early 1970s, thecatalytic converter and unleaded gasoline were phased in for new cars and by the year 2010, there are almost no pre-1972 vehicles still on the road. Vehicles built with the catalytic converter and modern computer systems emit 99% less pollutants per mile than the 1960s makes. Technology and the phase out of old vehicles that lacked this technology have solved this problem.

Example #2: Traffic Congestion --- this is another political problem. Time of day toll roads can now be implemented and this "Smart Grid" technology advance would go a long way in reducing traffic congestion as would time day parking rates so that parking prices would be higher during peak times and fall off peak.

Example #3: Urban crime --- the ubiquitous cell phone makes everyone a roaming reporter who can call 911 if an attack takes place. People are making videos and taking photos and this makes our streets safer. Potential criminals know that due to this technology that they are more likely to be caught "red handed".

Example #4: Climate Change --- if some nerd could invent a renewable power source that is cheap then debates about whether the U.S should sharply reduce its CO2 emissions would vanish as the the costs of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions would plummet.

An example where the author is right --- is the budget deficit. This is a political problem for which technological advance does not offer a simple solution. Improvements in health technology actually increase the budget deficit as past procedures that were impossible now become possible and there is an ethical issue in denying such treatment to the sick.


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