Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Are you in danger from boiler explosions?

No, obviously, at least if you live in the United States.

Boilers are my favorite example of why government regulation of business is a good idea, and with a new president and Congress coming into Washington with visceral and profoundly ignorant views about regulation, today is a good day to remind ourselves why regulations are a good idea.

Around the time of the Sultana disaster (in 1865), people were forced to come to terms with how dangerous boilers could be. The year after that explosion, the first boiler-specific boiler insurance company in the U.S., The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company, was founded. At this point in history, industrial boiler explosions were taking place about once every four days, making them distinctly dangerous sources of energy.

Over the next several decades, more and more safety advocacy groups, safety-oriented legislation and testing codes were introduced, all with the goal of engineering and maintaining safer boilers. While these machines continued to malfunction on occasion, the frequency of catastrophic explosions was significantly diminished as the technology continually improved.
I doubt whether any of my readers has ever thought about boiler safety. That's because a sizable industry exists to improve and examine boilers, with the power to condemn the dangerous ones. (Some years ago the late Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad ordered a new steam engine which could never be used because its boiler was condemned.)

Voluntary standards were first, backed up with a form of financial coercion overseen by insurance companies; but while this was a good start, the "fireproof hotel" syndrome (about which RtO has often written) made it inadequate.

It requires the power of the state to enforce sensible behavior on businesses (for profit or otherwise).

Boilers are a poor example in one way, because they are hidden away in basements and outbuildings where no one sees or thinks about them. Comes now, however, an English engineering magazine which ran a contest for pictures of unsafe electrical installations. In poor countries these tend to be public and obvious.

There probably are regulations in most of the places where the "winning" photographs were taken (and certainly so in France, where one winner was found), but that brings up the next point: regulations have to be adequately enforced with regulators given necessary resources.

It costs money, which makes industrial regulation (and many other kinds) a First World solution to a universal problem.

Should anyone wish to dispute this analysis, here's a simple counterfactual: Describe any instance, current or historical, where a business spent money to forestall dangerous conditions before it was compelled to by government  force. (If you shop at a Lowe's or Home Depot, consider how they close off aisles where ladders are being used to restock and ask yourself, when did that start, why and have I ever seen the like at my neighborhood hardware store?)

(A list at Wikipedia, very far from complete, shows hardly any boiler explosions in the past 70 years.)

21 comments:

  1. Obviously processes are improved, otherwise we'd be using stone axes. I'm looking for an example of a business that spent money not to increase production or profits but to mitigate the bad effects on outsiders with no financial interest in the business of the business's behavior. T
    here are examples but they are extremely rare.

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  2. Not according to your post, you aren't. To refresh your memory, here is what you said:

    Should anyone wish to dispute this analysis, here's a simple counterfactual: Describe any instance, current or historical, where a business spent money to forestall dangerous conditions before it was compelled to by government force.

    I thought subject changing was verboten here.

    The substantial and continuous improvements in SCUBA gear are perfect example.

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  3. Since I have many times written about the Fireproof Hotel effect,which is all about damage to people who don't benefit from a business's profits, I think my point was understood by everyone who was not committed to misunderstanding it.

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  4. Bullsh*t, Harry.

    You made a claim. I described its contradiction. You respond with piffle.

    But wait, there's more. I could, without the least strain, list a dozen instances of where businesses spent money to forestall dangerous conditions that only after the fact government enforced.

    Ready to put your ignorance on parade?

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  5. Harry, you haven't even dealt with my first example.

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  6. No, you didn't. Manufacturers of SCUBA gear spent money in the quest of safety in the complete absence of any kind of government regulation.

    People who, by the way, didn't benefit* from the companies profits.

    (where the term "benefit" is used per your tunnel-vision sense of the term.)

    Since I provided a counterfactual, your assertion is rubbished. I could provide many more but, like I said, you haven't even dealt with this one.

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  7. Since I have many times written about the Fireproof Hotel effect,which is all about damage to people who don't benefit from a business's profits, I think my point was understood by everyone who was not committed to misunderstanding it.

    By changing the subject to the Fireproof Hotel, you have proven you are the one who doesn't understand it. Even a little.

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  8. The Fireproof Hotel is a parable for game theory, which in turn is nothing more than a human description of the strategy of Batesian mimicry. You have already shown you don't understand the significance of game theory in economic activity.

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  9. The Fireproof Hotel is a parable for game theory, which in turn is nothing more than a human description of the strategy of Batesian mimicry.

    What load of crap.

    And epic subject changing.

    How about explaining SCUBA gear, a perfect example of businesses spending money to forestall dangerous conditions before compelled to by government force.

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  10. I have many, many more examples. But this will do for a start.

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  11. It doesn't, as I explained already. I will not go round and round. You can advance the discussion or not. Your choice

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  12. You haven't even started to go around the first time.

    You made an assertion that I contradicted with evidence. You haven't taken on board the evidence; instead, you changed the subject (par for your course), thereby making a liar out of yourself.

    ... a human description of the strategy of Batesian mimicry.

    You do realize this is where you punch yourself in the face, don't you?

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  13. Apparently not.

    The red flag, to give you a hint you so clearly need, is the word "mimicry".

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  14. Harry, what does any mimic absolutely require?

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  15. More to the point, what does Batesian mimicry absolutely require?

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  16. Just for the record, in case you ever trot out this tired old nag again, Batesian mimicry requires a model; not only that, it requires models to outnumber the mimics.

    Yet your fireproof hotel effect -- which means that businesses scarcely ever spend money to mitigate dangerous conditions -- means there aren't any models to mimic.

    You have contradicted yourself in the space of a post.

    And ignored -- or are ignorant of -- thousands of examples to the contrary.

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