Bring on that Army of Inspectors!

Our friends from the WSJ recently endowed us with this bit of wisdom:

Unsafe products are a fact of life. The U.S. has created its own share of food- and product-safety scares over the years, from E. coli-tainted spinach to faulty Bridgestone Firestone tires. Even the best inspection regime, whether government or private, will miss serious problems from time to time. But at the end of the day, the private market stands a better chance of protecting consumers than an army of government inspectors ever will.

O RLY? Here’s the type of product produced by the private market in China, where the government inspectors are complicit in the chase for cash at the individual’s expense:


  1. Rose Colored Glasses

    In the view from above, we can see that the car’s design directs the brunt of the offset impact directly at the driver.

  2. Ugh. When libertarians/republicans get over their paranoid distrust of the government, that’ll be the day. Government isn’t flawless, but at least it’s *us* – conservatives understand self-interest, so they should understand this: private companies have almost NO self-interest in protecting us. WE *do* have interest in protecting ourselves.

  3. What do you mean at the people’s expense? That is just the Chinese-government approved crumple-driver-zone technology: anyone who crashes their vehicle is an embarrassment to the state and must be compacted into a convenient shape for disposal. This is a feature for the glorious people of China, not bug. Now if only they can find a way to make the car crash seek out and demean the driver’s family members as well…

  4. So, how fast was that impact?

    My thoughts as it went: Crumple zone, crumple zone, TOO MUCH CRUMPLE!

  5. @Bronze, there is some controversy surrounding that video. First of all, that car isn’t even available in the US (notice the lack of airbags!). But it is also alleged that the car is going faster than a normal test. Nevertheless, if the car were going 10-15 miles per hour slower, you’d be 10-15% less dead than the dummy in the test!

  6. valhar2000

    Well, at least it is quick and painless.

  7. The following is speculative!:

    There may be a tendency, especially, perhaps, in industries which don’t require a great deal of engineering or which have “mature” products, to be reactive rather than proactive with regards to possible problems. That is, not too much thought is put into either consequences or preventative measures (and much less thought into designing-out, avoiding, or testing-for problems!). Instead, nothing much seems to happen until it is obvious there is a problem. What then happens seems to vary enormously, from outright denial to “use the lawyers” to an admission of a problem, and probably numerous other variants.

    In contrast, collective (i.e., community or society)–nominally in the form of the government–may tend towards being proactive, and in some cases, with more-or-less continuous monitoring. That is, there’s an attempt to predict and find problems, and to encourage steps to avoid there being problems, and in the best cases, to keep an eye on things to try and spot indications of possible, or actual, problems.

    Both groups–industry and collective–can be the other way around, of course.

    You clearly need both proactive and reactive, and monitoring, so at a guess, neither government nor industry alone is ideal. Both are necessary, albeit not sufficient (e.g., you also need problems to be reported). And both can, I presume, learn from the other.

    It also occurs to me individual corporations are legal “persons”. (And have repeatedly(?) been diagnosed with various “mental” disorders.) They tend to be larger and wealthier “people” than real humans (translation: more powerful). I’m not sure if that is either relevant to the above speculation, nor how to factor it in if it is relevant…?

  8. Graculus

    I’m not sure if that is either relevant to the above speculation, nor how to factor it in if it is relevant…

    It’s relevant so long as people believe that it’s true.

    Legal personhood for corps is one of the Truly Bad Ideas™ of our times.

  9. angrytoxicologist

    Two severe flaws in the WSJ excerpt.
    1) market pressures only work where consumers have a direct associated brand to know and keep away from. When problems are multiple layers away or the companies produce knock-offs, the companies are inuslated. This is why DuPont has to worry about their public image (they brand their products) but Daikin doesn’t.

    2) Even if the markets work they are reactive. What is the WSJ saying, that the people that get hurt (and sometimes killed) but faulty products are just another cost of first world living that we should get used to? That those injuries and lives are worth so little compared to the supposed right to unrestricted markets? This reasoning makes me a bit sick. It is also the effect of looking at balance sheets all day and not people.

  10. So, how fast was that impact?

    The car in the video has a tag on it captioned “64 mph” from overhead, I think.

    What I really wonder is what kind of car is that? I want to make sure I never go near one when I’m out of the country.

  11. Courtney

    So, how fast was that impact?

    The car in the video has a tag on it captioned “64 mph” from overhead, I think.

    From some quick googling, China uses the metric system, so that’s likely to be 64 km/h (about 40 mph), not 64 mph. It also looks pretty similar speed-wise to another video of a Chinese car crash test that I saw, which the YouTube description lists as being at 64 km/h.

  12. TW Andrews

    O RLY? Here’s the type of product produced by the private market in China, where the government inspectors are complicit in the chase for cash at the individual’s expense:

    Seriously. There was a reason that a significant fraction of our legislation in the 20th century was devoted to regulating things that killed consumers. It would be absurd if we had to go through the same sort of crap again just because people fetishize trade with China.

  13. OK, so this is a reasoned argument, right? Actually, not. While the author claims to write about how others dumb down the argument, he is simply giving us a visual anecdote, knowing full well that visual items like this have greater emotional impact than a reasoned argument. I find this pretty cynical.

    Questions to ask for reasoned debate (and I don’t claim to know the answers):
    1. Do potential customers know about the poor cras test results of this car? Before we assume the free market actually promotes such poor quality, remember that good markets depend on good information.

    2. Does China allow their citizens to get good consumer information? In the U.S., we have Consumer Reports–by the way, a non-governmental organization operating in the free market–to help spread this information. Does the government of China allow relevant information to be disseminated or does it suppress it?

    3. Does China have liability law? Liability works through the government insofar as it’s a legal matter occuring in government courts of law, but in fact it’s a system of individual enforcement, rather than government enforcement. If I am injured by a defective product, I have to file suit. The government won’t do it for me.

    4. Is this auto manufacturer one of the Chinese government-owned companies?

    Again, I don’t know the answers to these question, and so the answers might support the blogger’s case. But simply showing a quick video clip is an attempt to wrench the emotions, not get people to think analytically.

    And to think this appears in scienceblogs…it’s pretty damn unscientific.

  14. Yet with liability law, Consumer Reports, and good markets/good information, the US car industry still managed to produce the Pinto – how many people died before that got withdrawn?

    Adam Smith didn’t trust private merchants to act in the public interest (‘People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.’), and I don’t think we entirely should either.

    Experience constantly shows us that simply relying on the goodwill of someone who also wishes to keep quarterly earnings as high as possible is going to end in tears.

    Ronald Reagan is someone I seldom quote, but I think his ‘trust but verify’ makes perfect sense. Market are great in many ways, but I wouldn’t want to trust them with my life.

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