A blog by Patrick Crozier

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June 16, 2004

The questionable assumption behind safety regulations

Whenever a politician (or other) proposes or defends a safety regulation he is essentially making the statement that the safety level achieved by the free market is insufficient and that, therefore, the state must intervene.

To which the question ought to be: how would he know?

Safety is an individual thing. We all have our own individual idea of how much safety we might want. The peculiar thing is that this seems to vary according to time and circumstances. Young men, it would appear, have very little concern for their safety - why else do so many of them succeed in killing themselves in road accidents? Many of us seek out potentially risky activities like sky-diving simply because they are risky.

And because safety is an individual thing it is quite impossible to state that one level is the right level. It will be right for some and wrong for others.

The other point to make is that safety (like most other things) is a relative and not an absolute. We compromise our safety when we take into account other factors such as cost and usefulness.

Having said that, it is still perfectly possible for the market to get it wrong and find itself providing a service that might be biased towards cost (or some other factor) at the expense of safety when in fact people would be quite happy to pay more.

But if that is the case then it is likely that the market will fill the gap.