GOVERNMENT REGULATION: There are some instances where government regulation is beneficial, and even critical. Economic situations such as natural monopolies present significant challenges to the private sector because there is little intrinsic competition, and so some government regulation may be useful.

What brings the topic to mind, however, is this awful story about passangers being sucked out the back door of a plane over the Congo. Without knowing many specifics, it isn't hard to speculate on the series of failures that led to these deaths. Poor maintenance and repair allowed the pressure system of the "several decades old" aircraft to fail catastrophically. In order for the passangers to be sucked out, they must not have been wearing seat belts -- even properly secured chairs would have given them protection and kept them inside the plane until it could land. As is common in the third world, this cargo plane likely had no chairs or security restraints at all, and most of the passangers were probably just sitting on the floor.

Safety regulations can prevent these types of accidents. It often isn't in a service provider's short-term economic interests to spend money on security devices that will only rarely be of use; they may calculate that it will be cheaper to put off spending the money on the securty and instead just spend money later paying off the victims' families. However, this passes the financial burden of their decision onto the rest of society (since the dead will no longer be working or caring for their families, for example). Even if the payments to the families of the victims cover all the lost productivity of the dead relative, there are many other hidden costs that are not taken into account, such as the psychological effects that disasters can have on the economy and on specific industries.

And of course a bunch of people end up dead. I don't think highly of regulations that try to protect people from their own stupidity (such as helmet laws), but I do think that people should be protected from others' stupidity. It shouldn't be illegal to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt, but I have no problem with it being illegal to manufacture and sell a car that doesn't have seatbelts.



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