Re: Fire Safety Regulations: Good or Bad?

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Wed Jul 04 2001 - 20:05:45 MDT

On Wednesday, July 04, 2001 10:19 AM Mike Lorrey wrote:
>> I think there's a big difference between the two -- between "government
>> fiat" and "insurance requirements." The latter is voluntary, the former
>> mandatory.
> Yes, but the difference is irrelevant to this particular debate.

I don't think so. John M. Cobin's point is that government mandated codes
have a different effect than privately evolved ones. In particular, he
brings up two theories of why this might be is so:

1. "Regulation is a public choice phenomenon that primarily serves special
2. "Regulation is unlikely to increase safety efficiently, and perhaps not
effectively, because it is always constrained by inadequate local

(See, the section "Theories
about safety regulation.")

>> But Cobin does go over just this point in the third section of the essay
>> ( when discussing Santiago's
>> building code: "The legislation was designed to establish compulsory
>> construction norms for minimum and maximum building height and the
>> of building materials, plus a means to retard the propagation of
>> This code was put into place in 1929, "after a disastrous earthquake
>> Talca [another Chilean city] in 1928..."
> Yes, but the fact that he bases his initial premise so faultily condemns
> the whole exercise.

Wrong! You are making two assumptions here. One is that you can dismiss a
whole essay based on the abstract. This leads me to ask, did you even
bother to read it?

The other is that Cobin's abstract actually contradicts your belief about
"fire safety regs" being made to "The purpose is to reduce the overall
damage and death toll of each individual fire." I don't see how this
contradicts his abstract. In fact, that he focuses on structural fires
throughout the essay, kind of tells me that he kind of has this in mind.

Are you just looking for a way to disagree here?

>> I would hazard to guess -- but confess ignorance here:) -- that, in the
>> past, most fires, too were small and contained. It wasn't like London
>> burned done once a decade. You make it sound as if it did.
> Perhaps not the whole city, but large chunks of it did, in fact. Tell
> me: how many wooden structures remain in London proper that are more
> than 250 years old? Very few. How about Chicago? Very few.

But what would this prove? Even if massive fires did not take out wooden
structures, eventually, just piecemeal burning of them over a long enough
period might take them out. Also, wood structures don't last long even
without fires anyhow. How many many hundreds years old wooden structures
are there worldwide? Outside of Scandanavia, I bet very few. Finally, we
would need to separate out technological, economic, and regulatory changes.
Large office buildings today, tend to be glass and steel. (Yet they burn.)

> A proper study would chart out the percent of individual cities killed,
> injured, and left homeless from fire every year before and after the
> institution of fire codes in those cities.

Granted. We would also have to try to estimate the number of people made
homeless and the lower amount of social wealth that is caused by either
costly regulation or uneven regulation. (This brings to mind something that
happened to a merchant I knew several years ago. When he became critical of
the mayor in his town, his store was visited by the fire inspector --
someone he'd never even met before that -- and visited often.)

>> What we would need to do is find out if government fire codes have had
>> impact you believe they have.
> Groups like the ICBO, BOCA, etc. have done numerous studies in the past
> on this subject illustrating just my point.

I'd have to study the studies before passing judgment here.


Daniel Ust

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