Government Investment in Self-Driving Cars: Leading from Behind

The Obama administration announced that they were going to invest $4 billion in self-driving cars.  Why?  Private firms have already developed self-driving cars, and although none are available for purchase now, they are on their way with or without government involvement.

Is this really a good use of our tax dollars?  What investments can the government make here for the benefit of American taxpayers?

Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox says, ” the government would remove hurdles to developing autonomous vehicles and set further guidelines for them within six months.”  Getting government out of the way of self-driving cars seems like a good idea, but should this cost $4 billion?  And as for setting further guidelines, imposing regulatory costs on the industry seems counterproductive.

Why not let the industry proceed, as it has been doing, without government interference?

This seems like a case of somebody in the Obama administration seeing what’s ahead and wanting to get in on the ground floor after most of the superstructure has already been built.

The article goes on to say, “The government’s new support includes a request in President Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year for $4 billion, to be spent over 10 years, to finance research projects and infrastructure improvements tied to driverless cars.”  Private firms are already doing the research, at no taxpayer expense.  As for infrastructure improvements, with all the stories I read about the nation’s infrastructure problems, it is not apparent that if the federal government is going to invest in infrastructure, this is the best investment to make.

Great innovations have characterized the American economy since the nation’s founding, and this looks like a case of the government seeing another great innovation and wanting to share the spotlight.

The private sector is doing a great job developing self-driving cars.  The government does not need to be spending your tax dollars to get involved.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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