Badtux the Snarky Penguin

In a time of chimpanzees, I was a penguin.

Religious fundamentalists are motivated by the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere, is having fun -- and that this must be stopped.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Sago mining disaster: What does it mean?

Mining in general has become much safer in recent years. It has become far more mechanized, with fewer miners underground and more open-pit mining ("mountain-topping").

However, regardless of whether mining in general is safer or not, it is clear from this particular mine’s safety record over the last couple of years, with hundreds of safety violations of which dozens were detirmined “critical”, that it was a disaster waiting to happen. The question of what happened in this specific incident is of disinterest to me mostly because regardless of whether this was an act of God or an act of negligence, that does not change the fact that the mine was unsafe and needed far more attention than the handslaps that the mine operator received.

For those who claim that the WV mine regulators wouldn’t allow an unsafe mine to continue operation, have you ever lived in WV? The mining companies, whenever the regulators threaten to come down hard on a mine, go to the workers and tell the workers that they will close the mine if the regulators keep wanting to do their jobs. The workers are given a choice of working in an unsafe mine, or working nowhere at all, and express the same to their legislators, who then intervene to save the miners’ jobs. The mining companies have all the power here, the miners have none. They can either work in an unsafe mine, or starve to death.

For those who state “well, okay, but that still doesn’t need overnment intervention, let the free market decide”: This situation is already the result of massive government intervention in the free market, specifically, the government grant of limited liability, the most massive government intervention ever. Since due to this government intervention the owners of the mine are no longer held personally and severally liable (i.e. no longer face the threat of prison for negligent homocide) if a man is killed due to the negligence of the mine management, they thus have every incentive to order the mine management to cut corners.

The fact that the majority of mine owners and managers resist that temptation according to the statistics posted elsewhere in this thread does not change the fact that some will not. Every government intervention has unintended consequences that often require further government intervention, and this is no exception. As long as we have the government grant of limited liability exempting owners of a company from personal responsibility for the actions of the company, we will need government oversight of corporations in order to protect the lives and safety of their workers and customers. The only alternative is to remove the government intervention (the grant of limited liability) and go back to the English common law situation, where the owners of a business were personally responsible for all consequences of a business’s operation, including the possibility of going to jail for negligent homocide if a worker or customer died due to the negligence of their management. Without consequences, a true free market does not exist and cannot work, and we get situations like unsafe mines that require yet more government intervention to handle.

Given this, regardless of whether the mine disaster happened due to an act of God or because of negligence, we cannot simply say "so what, it's free enterprise in action." We must have firm government oversight of mines -- the alternative is that mining companies have absolutely no (zero) incentive to protect their workers and customers, since their owners can't be jailed for negligent homocide due to that *other* massive government intervention (the grant of limited liability). And noting that President Bush apparently disagrees with this notion, having cut mining safety budgets drastically during his Presidency, isn't partisanship -- it is simple fact.

– Badtux the Libertarian Penguin

Posted by: BadTux / 1/06/2006 12:40:00 PM  


For those who state “well, okay, but that still doesn’t need overnment intervention, let the free market decide”:

I'd say that all the time if I knew what an "overnment" was;)
# posted by The cats, formerly known as CottonSaddieMango : 7/1/06 3:52 PM  

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