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Random Link: On The Market For Fire Safety…

March 28th, 2010 · 3 Comments
Random Links

Steve Landsburg, author of The Armchair Economist (and others), writes about the economic costs of fire safety. How much would you pay (or forego) for increased fire safety?

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rev. Pfloyd // Mar 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I love Steve Landburg and read both “The Armchair Economist” and the newer “More Sex is Safer Sex”. I agree with the supposition that the workers probably wouldn’t have taken the cut.

    But to put it in a more modern context–and excuse me seeming somewhat callous which is not my intention–but do people suspect that people in the WTC prior to 911 would have taken a 20% pay cut to have escape pods or parachutes? I’m guessing since I didn’t see any workers in the Empire State Building brandishing any overstuffed backpacks that the answer would be “no” as well.

    Food for thought, for sure.

  • 2 Jon Garfunkel // Mar 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    Jodi- we met at Howie & Sarah’s party. Thanks for posting. Unfortunately, this is one of those times where a tenured professor blogger is posting “hey! here’s some seat-of-the-pants reasoning which I don’t have time to actually research, so I throw it to my readers to fill in the gaps…”

    see my response:
    http://www.thebigquestions.com/2010/03/25/three-sides-to-the-story/#comment-4568

  • 3 Jon Garfunkel // Mar 28, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Apparently my comment was long enough to be held up in moderation. Here it is:

    Professor Landsburg — I’ve enjoyed your full-baked Slate columns, and wish you the best of luck in trying to grow this half-baked blog post into something worthy of publication. But first please engage your own academic team to research this.

    A few Google searches will point you in the direction of David Von Drehle, who wrote a 2004 book “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America.” Enough of the book is available via Google Books preview, in case you don’t have ready access to it at the Rochester library. It explains that it was never fully known whether the 2nd door was in fact locked. This is important because the judge in the criminal trial instructed the jury that the owners could only be convicted if they knew that the door was locked at that time. And, in fact, conflicting testimony was given at the trial. The law at the time had called for all doors to be unlocked.

    Your whole analysis falls to pieces when you assign agency to the workers here. You completely forget that the factory owners, if they were rational economic actors, would have calculated the calamitous effects of a criminal conviction for negligence, or civil recompense to the families of the victims.

    As it happened, the jury had enough of a reasonable doubt that the owners had cognizance of the doors being locked at the time of the fire, and they were acquitted. But they were open to civil suits, and ultimately had to pay $75 per victim. I don’t know the amounts of comparative suits in those days, but 10 weeks salary is slim by today’s standards. Let’s face it: any rational actor in society with a fair system of civil and criminal law must make decisions to reduce their exposure to punishment.

    Your conclusion is thus under-informed and patently “I’m guessing that no 1911 garment worker would have wanted to work in a factory with unlocked exit doors.” You should have researched New York State law in 1911: “All doors leading in or to any such factory shall be constructed as to open outwardly, where practicable, and shall not be locked, bolted, or fastened during working hours.” A Google search will bring you references to this law from the literature.

    And to *thus* conclude that “the market worked” after such half-assed research on your part is painfully heartless. (I appear to have done more research while watching the NCAA basketball today).

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