Monday, August 06, 2007

Quote of the Day: Lessons from the Bridge

We should all learn this lesson from the bridge collapse: nearly every newsworthy tragedy we see would be less common if those who could have prevented it were subject to the harsh and impartial oversight of the free market. At the same time, nearly every tragedy we see will result in endlessly broadcast exhortations that we eliminate more of that free market and replace it with more of the same government that allowed the tragedy to happen in the first place. The same counterarguments presented above will apply the next time you see a newsworthy tragedy. If enough of us begin using them, perhaps someday we'll start learning these correct lessons.

Imagine if a Wal-Mart fell in on customers, killing them. What would be the reaction? The CEOs of Wal-Mart would be strung up. Certainly there would not be any public moaning about how the roofs of our nation's shopping centers are in disrepair. The blame would be focused and intense, with no excuses tolerated.

The correct solution: get government completely out of the business of building bridges. Private engineers and inspectors, completely independent of the power of government to insulate them from the consequences of shoddy work, will inspect with the zeal of (most) private accounting and law firms, who jealously guard their reputations for excellence. Imagine how safe we'd feel if the people who inspect and approve bridges could actually lose their jobs and their fortunes if they make a fatal mistake!

~Brad Edmonds writing for the Mises Institute


At 8/07/2007 6:59 AM, Blogger Johnny said...

While I agree the government is guilty of waste, inefficiency, and exhibiting general apathy for the public - I'm not convinced that the private sector is as noble as you paint them to be in Edmonds' quote.

He cites an example of WalMart falling onto its customers. Such an event has happened in the past; in the late 80s a Sav-On food store roof collapsed into the relatively new building and killed many people inside.

Or there is the infamous Hyatt Regency Skyway collapse in Kansas City that killed over 100 people.

When these events happened; the business owners were not vilified. The hotel operators were not strung up as we would believe from Edmond's example.

And even in more small/isolated cases when the building of Irreplaceable Artifacts in New York collapsed - was there an angry mob?

When private sector tragedies happen blame is passed around and excuses made. The Private sector seeks to protect its own interests as well.

Private sector competition lends itself to as much corruption, abuse of funding, and otherwise general apathy. It's a bit harsh and irresponsible to say that the government needs to be completely removed from supporting public infrastructure based on the events of one tragedy. I would hope that Edmonds makes the realization that there are flaws in both the private and public sector.

At 8/07/2007 7:16 AM, Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

" Private sector competition lends itself to as much corruption, abuse of funding, and otherwise general apathy."

1. So what happened to the insurance rates of these private companies? They were lowered? How did other companies react? Reduced their maintenance?

2. When govt officials spend tax revenues under the heading of 'maintenance', where does the money actually go? How much is spent on salaries, offices, conferences, travel, perks, pensions, etc.?

At 8/07/2007 9:42 AM, Blogger juandos said...

No problem here with the idea of privatization of bridges and roads...

The government for the most part (I do acknowledge that in certain sectors run by various local, state, and federal government entities have done some excellent work) has a long an inglorious track record of stumbling along from mistake to mistake and roads, bridges, levies are obvious cases in point...

Yes its interesting to note that johnny has cited examples, good examples too of how private construction has gone wrong and people have been killed...

What would be interesting if one had the data to work with is how often these horrendous failures happens in the private sector (where those involved can be subjected to civil and maybe criminal prosecution) versus the government sector...

At 8/08/2007 8:43 PM, Blogger Joe Liberty said...

Johnny, you are leaving out the fact that Sav-On groceries never really grew after that and that the contractors responsible for the Hyatt Regency Skyway either went to jail or lost their contracting licenses (and thus their livelyhoods).

The negative effects of private failure, such as jail time and a loss of livelyhood are much bigger incentives than any "punishment" the government goes through. When the government fails, they just blame everyone else, and then ask for more of your money, only to fail again.


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