Monday, February 16, 2004

Regulations, Regulations, Regulations; And Why That's A Good Thing

Three stories caught my eye this evening and they illustrate clearly why government regulation - when applied logically and for the good of people (as opposed to industry) - can be a very good thing.

The first two stories involved disasters in China and Russia where building codes, while they exist, are enforced laxly, if at all (as long as you can afford the bribes). In the first instance, the glass roof to an indoor water park collapsed in Moscow on Saturday. Rescuers estimate that up to 38 may have died and over 100 were injured. In the second instance a fire in a multi-storey shopping pavilion in northeast China and in a bamboo temple in an eastern province killed 93 people. In what are considered civilized states, these kinds of failures of structures and codes should be unthinkable. They are not, however all that rare in either country.

In a similar vein think back to the major earthquakes this year in Turkey and Afghanistan and the thousands of people who died because poorly built structures collapsed.

The third story that caught my attention was about a construction crane that fell off of an Interstate construction site on an overpass, killing 3 construction workers. This is major news here in the U.S. because it it is rare and points out a potential failure of the complex of safety regulations, rules and inspections that keep such a story rare.

Tragedies of the type that happened in Russia and China are not so rare in what we would consider third-world countries; and the reasons are clear: insufficient or poorly enforced regulation of construction. They are rare in the US and most western countries for exactly the opposite reasons. Keep these stories in mind the next time some shrink-the-government-until-it-dies conservative complains about government regulations. But you don't have to restrict yourself to just the examples I've provided here. A very small amount of effort researching the topic will provide you with a wealth of examples to use. Everything from gas fires in China to tens of thousands dead in collapsed structures in earthquakes all over the world.

Government can be a force for good; regulations that secure our safety are but a single, wonderful proof of that.

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