Changing policy, ideology, popular opinion, media narratives and so on can be very hard. Changing social norms and culture is even more difficult. Thus, when a small technological innovation comes along that can substantially improve things, even in a small area, it really lifts my heart as it seems 'easy' and 'free'. A recent example is the introduction of tablet computers to Florida restaurant inspections (according to a new paper in The RAND Journal of Economics). Getting rid of corruption, making people more conscientious and diligent and designing incentive systems that improve things are all very hard, and that's why we at the ASI often make the case for tried and true robust mechanisms. But the paper, from authors Ginger Zhe Jin and Jungmin Lee found that this tiny change made a sizeable difference:
In this article, we show that a small innovation in inspection technology can make substantial differences in inspection outcomes. For restaurant hygiene inspections, the state of Florida has introduced a handheld electronic device, the portable digital assistant (PDA), which reminds inspectors of about 1,000 potential violations that may be checked for. Using inspection records from July 2003 to June 2009, we find that the adoption of PDA led to 11% more detected violations and subsequently, restaurants may have gradually increased their compliance efforts. We also find that PDA use is significantly correlated with a reduction in restaurant-related foodborne disease outbreaks.
Enjoy a chart of the finding below, and a full pdf of the working paper here.