Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Sometimes regulation can backfire, as it did for workers in smokey environments across the country. The Surgeon General in 1996 declared that second-hand smoke causes cancer. Yet OSHA refused to ban smoking from the workplace. I suspect that this made it harder for injured workers to sue their employers, whose behavior was more or less approved by OSHA. Had there not been "regulators" (OSHA), the employees could have simply used expert witnesses (like the Surgeon General) to state their case. The argument that "OSHA approves" could not have been used by the defense.
One of the deans at the college where I worked used to quote the aphorism "careful what you wish for." Suppose that BP's activities was approved and certified A+ by some government regulator. Would they then still be responsible for clean-up?
Another fascination of the BP spill is that with all our technology and wisdom, we can't stop the spill in a timely way. We have grown up to believe in technology. So often I've said (or at least thought) that the limit was our imagination, not our technology. But now... we've found a dragon we can't slay.