For folks abroad - New Zealand's South Island continues to be disaster central. Twenty-nine miners died this week in a coal mine explosion on the West Coast. For context, the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald killed 29 men thirty-five years ago, in a country ten times the size of New Zealand, and Canadians still sing about it.
I have no clue whether DoC regulations were the binding constraint here - the mine was under some reasonably large mountains. I'd be pretty reluctant to blame the regs absent pretty strong evidence that the mining company had been pushing for open cast. And even then, I'd still be a more than a bit reluctant to pin it on DoC. Suppose it had been a private land owner who only allowed mine access under similar restrictive conditions, and the mine owner agreed. Would we blame the land owner for putting restrictions on use of his land? I'd hope not.
But the bit that bugs me in Imperator's post is here:
Let's also think for a minute abut the logic of the Objectivist arguments. They regard government regulation as evil. So in the Objectivist utopia we would have little or no health and safety legislation. Mines (closed or open) would be deathtraps, because mine companies would have no incentive to run safe operations.If you want to mock Objectivist utopias for being unrealistic, you oughta do better than posit dystopias as counterargument. In the absence of health and safety legislation, the profit-maximizing firm will provide safety and other amenities up to the point where workers would sooner have more salary than more amenities. - that's rather likely more than zero provision. This is kinda Econ 101.
Suppose you, the rapacious Dickensian employer, could put in a safety improvement that will cost $50. You pay each of your 100 workers $10 per year. The workers value the improvement at $1 (per worker). The workers tell you that they'd really like the safety improvement. You tell them that it's expensive and they'd have to take a pay cut: you'll pay them each $9.25 per year if you put in the safety improvement. They say fine. You save $75 in salaries, pay $50 for the improvement. Your profits go up by $25. The workers are happier too - they would have been willing to pay up to $1 each to have the improvement and they've only had to pay $0.75.
Just look around wherever you work and count all the things you're provided as part of your standard employment bundle that aren't mandated by law. Is there artwork anywhere in the building? Is the paint on the walls a pleasing colour? Are the chairs more comfortable than they could be? Is the coffee or tea better than the minimum required? Is the climate control better than the minimum permitted? Is the landscaping pleasant? Employers provide a whole pile of amenities - not because they're required to, but because it's cheaper to provide those amenities than to provide the salary compensation that would be needed in the absence of those amenities.
What's required for this not to hold? It'll break if:
- Firms aren't profit-maximizing, either because owners like injuring employees or because they're too dumb to recognize a profit opportunity;
- Firms are bound by other legal constraints. Suppose a worker at the minimum wage would be willing to trade salary for workplace amenities (safety or otherwise). He's barred from making that trade, so the compensation bundle has a suboptimal mix of salary versus amenities.
Even if you want to posit the worst possible conditions for workers - say a local monopsonistic employer, no union, no exit from the town so you either work in the mine or starve - the employer will still have incentive to provide the most efficient (small) compensation bundle to workers. And if workers put value on safety such that it's cheaper for the employer to provide a bit more safety than to provide a bit of pay, he'll provide safety. Even if workers put zero value on safety, simple concern about mine shut-downs would motivate provision of some safety measures.
Yes, there would probably be less provision of health and safety in the absence of regulations mandating a minimum amount of health and safety. But there wouldn't be zero. I don't know why we need posit dystopias against utopias. Can't we all just have reality-based arguments?