I am particularly intrigued by a reference in this article to a Cato paper which claims, “the vast majority of studies has found no statistically significant reduction in the rate of workplace fatalities or injuries due to OSHA.”
I imagine other public health and safety programs we take for granted are similarly impotent. Why do we think we need them?
Part of the answer — I am sure — is a misunderstanding about profits and how business functions. Many people assume that profits are synonymous with greed, that somehow profits represent an excess that business operations can do without. Profits, they reason, are only the money left over after all expenses are paid.
But in fact profits also are the money saved by cutting expenses. In their purest form profits derive from increasing production by doing more with less. They also are the irreplaceable source of the investment needed to improve productivity, which is necessary to remain competitive.
Put another way, profits may be pursued out of greed, but no business can operate for long without them. As a practical matter, greed is irrelevant.
It is not hard to see how public health and safety can arise naturally and inherently in the course of business operations. When a production process is unsafe it will be hard to attract workers to perform it. When a product is unsafe, it will be hard to attract buyers to buy it.
These factors are sufficient to explain how it happens that public health and safety regulations don’t accomplish much, if anything.