Cultural differences between countries run right to the heart of government, thereby influencing technological innovation. This is reported in a comparative study by David Calef and Robert Goble published recently in the journal Policy Sciences(1). The authors outline efforts taken throughout the 1990s by both the US and French governments to adopt legislation fostering technological innovation to improve urban air quality by promoting clean vehicles, specifically electric vehicles (EVs). The study highlights the differences in approach and policy-making style by both governments and how this might have affected the final outcome.
In the Californian example, mandates were instituted that required zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to make up a certain percentage of car production and sales, with fines imposed for not reaching targets. Both the oil and auto industries opposed this and lobbied heavily against it. There was intensive media coverage of the debate and environmentalists spoke out on both sides. All parties were locked in a confrontational relationship fueled by a longstanding mutual mistrust. Public participation was openly sought.
The French mandate, however, was characterized by heavy government involvement. Much of the interaction between government and businesses was conducted behind closed doors, free of public scrutiny. Unlike in the US, no group ever complained that EVs were a problem. A treaty was made between the state-owned electricity company, the auto industry and local administrative institutions to contribute to the development of the EV. No penalties were imposed for failing to meet targets. Subsidies were provided to encourage individuals to buy EVs.
The diversity in the policies adopted reflect both practical and cultural differences between the USA and France. American cities are characterized by urban sprawl (which makes EVs difficult to use), the gasoline tax is low and the environmental lobby is
Contact: Joan Robinson