Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Remember when Megan McArdle was telling a horrified and in some cases grief-stricken audience that the Grenfell Tower inferno was no reason to go all crazy with sprinklers and fireproof cladding and other so-called "safety" features when the money would be better spent on corporate tax cuts? I think one Max Bloom, a National Review "editorial intern," has topped her -- figuratively speaking, of course, though he defends McArdle with great passion, lamenting that she was "savaged on social media" only for her "transparently reasonable sentiments... People don’t, it turns out, particularly appreciate the notion that safety is a trade-off; they particularly don’t appreciate hearing about the importance of such trade-offs in the aftermath of an unbearable tragedy."

That last is true and, if you were unfamiliar with the sort of people who write for National Review, you might expect Bloom next to acknowledge the corollary: that people get angry at "transparently reasonable sentiments" like McArdle's when they're expressed on the heels of a tragedy because that's how normal human beings react to such boorishness. But Bloom seems never to have had such a realization. That is, he knows these humanoids respond in such a way, but he fails to see the sense in it -- why are these littlebrains so sentimental over something as ridiculous as the lives of people who are not Max Bloom? Don't they see how smart guys like him suffer from their unreasonableness?
There is very little that is worse for skeptics of big government than a tragedy. Since people demand action after a tragedy, tragedies tend to lead to greater regulation, and regulation is subject to a ratchet effect: Once regulations are passed, they are hard to reverse and the new regulatory climate becomes normal. The political effects of a tragedy can shape society for decades — it was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan that brought about new regulatory standards in factories, and the Titanic changed maritime safety forever.
I like to think some NR editor suggested he put in the Titanic to show that rich people die in these things, too, not just grubby poors; and Bloom thought, well, it's pandering but I'll be needing his letter of recommendation.

Anyway, Bloom eventually counsels compromise with the weepy regulation-ratcheters, for the good of the cause:
It stands to reason, then, that conservatives and libertarians have an interest in promoting modest, cheap, and popular safety rules and regulations. If the United Kingdom had banned the flammable cladding used in Grenfell, as America and Germany had, no one would be talking today about tearing down low-income housing across London, and the cost would be only a few thousand pounds more per development.
The real Grenfell tragedy is, we could have saved money!
Libertarians in particular will find these preventive regulations difficult to stomach. But most of the world is not libertarian — certainly, not after a trauma of this magnitude — and so, difficult to stomach though they may be, safety rules and regulations, carefully chosen and managed, are a worthwhile investment in a slightly more libertarian future.
As grotesque as it looks when put so baldly, it's really what the tradeoff's been all along -- the rest of us trying to live safer, healthier, more humane lives, and these monsters trying to figure out just how little they can get away with letting us have.

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