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Who needs more regulations?

July 3, 2013 - Harry Eagar
The short answer is, you. A longer answer is in Slate, and no doubt if you're a skeptic you can easily find still longer answers.

It turns out the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that blew up not only had a derisory amount of liability insurance but no sprinklers. I am surprised by only one thing about this.

That it was a reckless private business in Texas is no surprise. That the owners did nothing to alert local firefighters about potential trouble is no surprise.

But I am, slightly, surprised -- though I should not be -- that a private liability insurance underwriter wrote even a $1,000,000 policy for the plant without, you know, finding out whether it had sprinklers.

Chance um, as we say in Hawaii.

Query: if the murderous owners had wanted to take out a bigger policy, generating a bigger premium, would the insurer have inspected the plant? Or would the insurer have acted like AIG and derivative insurance and just accepted the check as free money?

If so, how much bigger?

The lesson from this is that private, for profit business can in no circumstances be relied upon to do the right thing (even in its own interest, still less in the interest of innocent bystanders) on its own. RtO has written about this often, under the name of the FIREPROOF HOTEL strategy.

Do you make more profits by painting FIREPROOF HOTEL on your building without making it fireproof, or by spending money fireproofing it? Obviously, the former (at least up to some point -- say when half of hotels burn down with customers inside -- when the fraudulent gambler with other people's lives begins to think the game is not worth, ahem, the candle). The theory of the free market guarantees that the fraudulent hotel operator will, more often than not, drive the honest operator out of business.

Regulations have to be written minutely, and more onerously than if their targets were reasonable people, because if they are not, the regulated will expend great effort to squirm out of their reach.


Article Comments



Jul-04-13 3:36 PM

Dunno. People in rural Texas are overwhelmingly rightwing, but you occasionally run across someone still infected with New Deal ideas.


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