The Crandall Canyon Disaster and Market “self-correction”

In responding to my last post “The Triangle Waistshirt Fire,” one commentor assured me that the market is self-correcting and capable of protecting workers and the public. He raised the example of the Crandall Canyon mine disaster, suggesting that the the owner (Robert Murray) will somehow get his just desserts in the end. Perhaps he will. No mention was made of how the market will play a role in this, but no matter.

Ironically, today The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the status of the disaster fallout.

Crandall Canyon widow Wendy Black minced no words last September when she told a Senate committee: “It would have taken just one MSHA man doing his job to have saved my husband’s life.”

Her bitterness over the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s perceived failure to enforce laws protecting miners was reinforced Monday by an internal Labor Department audit that found local, regional and national deficiencies in MSHA’s handling of Crandall Canyon’s roof control plan (“Crandall: Labor audit confirms families’ fears”).

Sounds like any penalty or market “self correction” consequences Murray pays will be rather cold comfort to widows and fatherless children—not to mention the dead themselves.

It is worth noting that the Triangle Shirtwaist Company owners suffered no consequences for their disregard for the lives of their workers. With few prior regulations fully spelling out their responsibilities, they got off scott free. In fact, with the fire insurance payments, they made a tidy profit from the deaths of almost 150 people. Justice is supposed to be blind, but the illustrious market was apparently also deaf to the cries of the victims.

Also inspired by the Tribune’s article, Oldenburg of 3rd Avenue has written a fine post about the essential need not only for regulation, but for government to be committed to enforcing the regulation—something we’ve lacked for quite some time.

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15 Responses to “The Crandall Canyon Disaster and Market “self-correction””

  1. Aaron Orgill Says:

    True, no comfort to the families. But Murray ignored existing rules, and you seem to constantly ignore the inescapable truth that no amount of regulation will cause immoral men to spend a few extra bucks for someone’s life. You want a perfect safeguard, and you can’t have it. And the market was part of the fallout, whether you acknowledge it or not. As I said yesterday, there is so much in place protecting workers that it’s headline news when something like the Crandall disaster does happen. If you think people don’t take notice when things are very wrong, you are mistaken. Murray is going to be lucky to escape with anything, he has huge fines and legal fees, has lost his good name, and it’s still not enough for you. The only fair thing would be to go back in time and save all these men’s lives. But it’s not possible. Bad people and events are among those “wintry doctrines” Elder Maxwell talked about. We can fight against tyranny and oppression and greed, and indeed have a duty to do so, but it’s still going to exist. And it’s exactly what you and I signed up for in the preexistence.

  2. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Better than going back in time, how about we enforce safety regulations so that the disaster doesn’t happen in the first place? Novel thought, I know.

    I don’t think murder of employees is a truth from which we cannot escape. If those regulations were enforced, most bad people like Murray would eventually be forced to sell to someone else; someone who, knowing the penalty for non-compliance, would not risk his workers’ lives. That is how we “fight tyranny, oppression, and greed.” Not by shrugging and saying “well, it’s going to happen, so what?”

    I couldn’t care less about what happens to Murray. What does it matter whether or not he’s punished? Retribution isn’t for us, but for God. Nothing that happens to him will bring the precious gift of life back to the workers he treated so casually. Gone, all because our government isn’t interested in enforcing the regulations lawfully established. And the libertarians and conservatives would have us get rid of the regulations we have?! Sad.

  3. jennifer Says:

    Here’s my 2 cents on the regulation/free market dialogue – I think that markets need some regulation to operate. Without the regulations, consumers can’t make informed decisions about their purchases, right?

    In the case of the coal mining industry, I can’t call up the power company and say “I have issues with the labor and safety practices at the XYZ mine and I don’t want to buy any electricity from their coal.” We rely on the government to set standards for labor and safety because we, the citizens cannot directly oversee that with the “free” market. I can’t even switch power companies for that matter.

    If I buy a house, I want to know that the builders followed the building codes and had their work inspected. I’d also prefer to buy a house that was constructed safely and no one got hurt or killed because the builder was trying to cut corners on the job site only to maximize his own profits. Regulations make it possible for the customer to buy with confidence.

    If I’m shopping for groceries, I like to know where the food came from. If the seafood is labeled from Canada or the US, I can feel pretty confident about buying it and eating it. If the label says it’s from China, I won’t buy it. I’d rather not eat food which lived in the industrial drainage of every kind of toy, electronic gadget, plastic trinket, cheap furniture, on the whole planet due to their very lax environmental protection laws. So really the regulation which requires that kind of labelling allows the consumer to make the market “work” by letting him choose what kind of product and business operation he prefers. It’s empowering the consumer. (maybe that empowerment is what businesses don’t like???)

    And while I’m on the subject, we should remember that freedom within the job market (meaning, if you don’t like the safety or pay or conditions w/ your employer, then leave) only applies when workers are hired legally. Otherwise exploitation or slave conditions exist (sad to think of that here in the US but there are numerous accounts of people brought here to work essentially as slaves w/o redress or recourse)………….. That burden goes back on the employers skirting labor regulations. I don’t know how those jerks sleep at night.

    Sorry for the rambling comments. You all get the gist.

  4. D. Sirmize Says:

    “Nothing that happens to him will bring the precious gift of life back to the workers he treated so casually. Gone, all because our government isn’t interested in enforcing the regulations lawfully established.”

    I don’t mean to threadjack this post, but this comment reminds me of an observation I made repeatedly in February when an illegal immigrant hit a school bus in Minnesota and killed 4 children.

    Had somebody simply enforced the law, these children would not have lost their lives. Nothing that happens to Alainiss Morales will bring the precious gift of life back to Hunter Javens (9), Jesse Javens (13), Emilee Olson (9), and Reed Stevens (12). Gone, all because our government isn’t interested in enforcing the regulations lawfully established.

  5. Aaron Orgill Says:

    You’re ignoring my point here, Derek, and you’re putting words in my mouth. I don’t recall calling for “getting rid of the regulations we have,” and I don’t recall saying the market was EXCLUSIVELY sufficient. And if you think I did, you’re mistaken. I am just pointing out that we already have laws in effect, and they’re not foolproof, and they’re never gonna be. The real failure at Crandall was that the people in charge of keeping Murray in check had no balls to stand up to a bully. But that’s their job description in the first place. There are going to be bullies who will take every action to protect what they consider their vital interests. You can’t handle it, don’t take the job. I consider it the same thing as Congress letting the Bush Administration run right over them to get us into a war. So what do you want to do? Remove those involved in the inspections who let the numerous safety infractions slide? That still doesn’t bring back the workers who perished. No, your solution is, as always, more government. Great idea: let’s create a whole new department to oversee the mine inspectors who should be doing their jobs but aren’t. Doubtless, when that doesn’t go perfectly, we will need a new department to oversee the overseers. Do you see how ridiculous it is? I just don’t see what point you’re trying to make, or why the Triangle Waistshirt fire was particularly relevant to begin with. You think guidelines and regulations are needed. Okay, they’re in place and have been for years. It seems like if you’re going to write about something like this, you would end with a suggestion. What more do you feel is needed?

  6. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I hasten to add that much of past union and government work has been a good thing (which I said from the very beginning). I am just asking you to acknowledge that the market has tools which contribute to that. The media outrage over Crandall can’t be attributed solely to unions and government; sorry. But what you don’t realize is that we are part of the market, and so are the upstanding, moral businesses who won’t sell their souls for extra profits. And I take exception to your comment in the last thread that “even you” have criticized Wal-Mart. Where there are obvious shady dealings going on, I will call them on it, and I think all but the most jaded capitalists will do the same. A little insulting that you feel anyone who thinks the market generally works well (particularly with the rules that have been put in place to restrain evil and designing men) would be blind to all of that.

  7. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Very excellent points, Jennifer. The market often obscures the information we need to be the “rational consumers,” free market advocates claim we are. And yes, businesses often do try to deliberately prevent us from having that information (see the milk labeling fiasco Jim Hightower recently discussed).

    Aaron, where did I accuse you of saying we should get rid of regulation or rely exclusively on the market? I made a blanket statement about the conservatives and libertarians, because that has been a central plank in their agendas for decades. From Reagan, to Grover Norquist, to Cheney, to Rove, to Delay, to Ron Paul, to Jim Hansen, to Romney, to the Cato Institute, to the Heritage Foundation, to the Libertarian party, to virtually all the right-wing talking heads, those ideologies have very strongly discouraged the empowerment of labor and promoted deregulation. The examples of Triangle and Crandall refute their claims. Despite what all of the above (if not you) claim, the market “self-correction” is far from sufficient, and tragically only kicks in after disaster.

  8. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Okay, fair enough. I feel that the regulations have become a de facto part of the market, so maybe we’re splitting hairs here. And I simply don’t see a need to go further than what we have in place, and in fact have gone too far in some ways. Who is the U.S. government to step in on every little thing? I will go for deregulation on some issues with no hesitation whatsoever. If you on the left had any idea how hard the government has made it in many cases to succeed, even for large corporations, you could probably appreciate a little bit of what they’re complaining about. At my last place of employment before opening my own business, I worked with a lady who became pregnant and virtually unfireable, despite a terrible track record. Things like that just get under my skin. How is it government’s business to dictate things like that? And you still haven’t answered my question of how government, or anyone else other than those creeps who kowtowed to Murray’s insistence that everything was perfectly safe, could have changed a single thing. The system we had in place spelled out clearly, in black and white, what Murray’s obligations were if he was going to be in the mining business. You’re jumping down the wrong throats here, and you STILL haven’t really stated what it is you’re in favor of beyond regulations which already exist.

  9. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Had many people not listened to the libertarian/conservative dogma, and had we not elected these sorts of people to office over the past few decades, offices from which they would very deliberately defund and otherwise neuter our regulator agencies, this sort of event would have been much less likely to occur. I’m in favor of rejecting the flawed ideology, and of restoring the strength of our regulatory agencies. How difficult is this to understand?

  10. Derek Staffanson Says:

    I see executive pay rising every day, the gap between them and the average worker widening, pensions for workers cut while execs leave with golden parachutes, and wonder how it can be said that large corporations have a hard time succeeding.

  11. Aaron Orgill Says:

    Re: “How difficult is this to understand?” I just expected you to make some kind of specific proposal. You’re in favor of regulation. Okay, we already knew that, and there is plenty already there. What else would you like to see added, and in what alternate universe do those people not die?

    Re: “How can anyone say corporations have a hard time succeeding?” Okay, Derek. Let’s see you do it. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. You are under the mistaken impression that the people who run them have had some kind of charmed lives, and that’s simply a lot of b.s. There have been thousands of start-ups that have become absolutely huge in just the past 10 years or so. Hell, Wal-Mart only went public in 1972. In 10 years, I hope for my little barter exchange is well-known across the country and making millions of dollars. I don’t intend to feel guilty if it does. I don’t think you realize how much corporations give to charities and causes. That kind of money isn’t there if there aren’t people willing to dream big. There is plenty wrong with corporate America, but how you feel you have the right to dictate hiring practices and every other aspect of their business when we’re already taking a huge percentage of their profits to run a wide array of idiotic government programs is insane. And perhaps the most telling comment is how you complain about “the ever-widening gap”. America is getting richer, from the bottom up. The rich are getting richer faster, and you think that’s soooo unfair. It’s very unbecoming, I have to say.

  12. Aaron Orgill Says:

    BTW, Derek, now that we’ve made up, I can think of one industry I think we need to give some strong consideration to on regulations: payday lenders. Slimy, slimy, slimy. Still feel about the same on most of my comments here, though.

  13. N8Ma Says:

    Coal mines in China operate under market forces too you know.

    Good for them!
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9947668

    Do any of those photographs look familiar? Well, those guys look a lot like guys did back during our robber baron days of unbridled capitalism. I thought it was pretty obvious from history that the Gilded Age and the roaring 20’s made it obvious that the market, left entirely to itself, is a mess. Now the degree of regulation could be argued (Regan + Thatcher taking credit for freeing up capitalists to do their thang) but the instant someone wants to seriously say “let the market do its job, all will be well” I start to yawn.

    I mean, how would the market “self-correct” this mining disaster? “Well we would like to stay in business but we can’t get anyone to work for us because all of our workers die; to avoid dying they go work at the mine run by that other guy.” So NOT DYING becomes a market force? This is the kind of world we want to live in? The Ayn Rand/Libertarian guys out there certainly get points for intellectual courage, but application of these ideas really doesn’t work in the real world:
    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/32825

  14. Thewmes Says:

    I have work several labor jobs over the last ten years (high school dropout, that’s what we do) and can say from my experience my employers, for the most part, only followed safety guidelines because there is the threat of punitive action. They didn’t wish me or others to get hurt to make a buck, but they would have required us to work under more hazardous conditions if they weren’t afraid of large fines being imposed later.

    I for one am glad that there are regulations in place to force employers to maintain some minimal standard for safety. As far as regulation goes, of all the years I have worked construction I have never seen OSHA come to a job site until there has already been an accident to check the working conditions there. However, I feel this is better than no regulation because I have the suspicion I would have worked under much worse conditions if they never came.

    I don’t put much faith in the free market regulating these safety standards either. To say you can quit your job and go work somewhere else is an argument in theory rather than actual practice. It is much harder to face in real life, especially when you believe the industry as a hole probably work under the same conditions.

  15. CStanford Says:

    Coming in late, but wanted to add:

    I think too often when people say “free market” they mean “free” in the teenager sense (or I could also say the Korihor sense): get off my back and let me do what I want. There is a kind of license that some seek even if it comes at the expense of others.

    I live not far from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, where for the last 14 years, violence has been rampant and hundreds of young women have been murdered. Many of these young women are factory workers, part of a large, cheap and *expendable* labor force that the owners of the factories have a vested interest in keeping numerous and expendable for their maximum profit. That is an example of the licentious “free market” in the Korihor sense.

    A truly *free* market would not force people to sell their labor in a buyer’s market in conditions like this. Of course, it would seriously cramp the ability of the owners to grow mightily rich too, which is why you hear so much teenager-style squawking about regulation: “aw, Mom/Dad/Government, get off my back and let me do what I want!”

    Freedom is not simply the absence of regulation.

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