December 31, 2003

Dishonest, Greedy, Pigs Will Kill You

Iran's Bam earthquake has exposed a building and land scam that overrode scientific opinion, engineering judgment, and greatly increased the death toll of the recent quake. Bam had been wracked by major tremors in 1911, 1950, and 1966. It was viewed as too dangerous to rebuild and the government halted the issuance of new building permits. With the fall of the shah and the change in regime, dishonest land speculators and corrupt mullahs colluded to override all good sense and Bam grew explosively with the mullahs claiming that the Hidden Imam would protect the city.

The advocates of government intervention like to go on about market failure. But here, the problem isn't a lack of regulation, it is that there is no recompense, no way to get at the people who have caused this tragedy because they have all the power, all the money, and all the guns. The imams control everything. The truth is that the builders and imams are dishonest, greedy pigs who feel no pity for the suffering and no guilt over the dead. And it doesn't matter what system, free market or state regulated is used they will still be there trying to make a quick buck and damn the consequences.

The only cures are civic virtue and independent risk assessment. Civic virtue to keep the public guardians honest and independent risk assessment (whether by public engineering board or private insurance company) to let all know what the true risks are in building.

I think that private risk assessment is better not because there is some inherently higher state of virtue in the private world. Instead, it's better because it is so much harder to monopolize and distort a private system, especially when there is government oversight for honesty. In Iran, who oversees the mullahs that made all that death and destruction possible?

Posted by TMLutas at December 31, 2003 10:43 AM