Yup, Ritchie again

But the issue is even more important than that. Without health and safety we would not have effective functioning markets in the UK.

You would not buy a coffee when out – it may not be safe. Or any food from supermarkets, for the same reason. Or drive a car – which would be a death trap.

The reality is health and safety gives us the confidence to buy. It does not harm markets and private enterprise – it’s the bed rock on which much of it is built.


So all those economists who have been shouting for decades that brand names are the market solution to exactly this problem are wrong then?

Please do note that I\’m not saying that regulation or legislation might not be better (or even worse) than the market solution. I\’m rather noting that Ritchie is insisting that regulation or legislation is the only possible answer.

As an example, the growth of Heinz was really rather built on the fact that in the early and unreliable days of food preservation their products killed rather fewer people than those of other manufacturers.

Or to offer a more modern example: who actually thinks that in the absence of legislation and regulation stating that it\’s a criminal offence to poison your customers that McDonalds would so relax their policies so as to poison their customers?

Or perhaps a slightly recondite example? As you regular readers know my day job involves dealing with weird and wonderful metals. In the metals markets we don\’t have legislation or regulation as to the quality of the materials that are sold. For things like copper, aluminium and so on we all use the London Metal Exchange system. You as a producer apply to have your production certified by this private sector organisation. Once you\’ve got it we all buy and sell this production quite happily. You can borrow against stocks and so on because banks agree that with an LME cert you\’re fine.

Move down the lists to minor metals like molybdenum, gallium, germanium and so on and there\’s not even such a central body. Sale and purchase is done by looking at the actual chemistry of the lot of material itself. We generally use a simple one page contract from the Minor Metals Traders Association (which has language along the lines of \”according to accepted industry standards\”) but there is no legislation or regulation. Those in the market know roughly what they expect to see and get.

The terms of how you complete a contract are generally understood (stick material into bonded, neutral, warehouse, get one of three or four companies to sample and analyse it, release it to buyer and get a telegraphic transfer in return) and are not based on legislation or regulation, simply on the basics of industry practice and a decent dose of Common Law.

Get to the weirdo stuff I deal with and there\’s not even something like the MMTA. Every deal, every specification, is unique. For example, in one oxide I deal with two customers insist that Th and U must be below 1 ppm and one will accept 5 ppm Fe and 2 or 3 ppm Zr while another demands Fe below 3 ppm and Zr below 1 ppm.

There is no regulation or legislation on any of this. It is purely my reputation on the line that I provide what the customer asks for. And if I don\’t I take the material back and do better next time.

No, I don\’t insist (at least not here and now) that this system is better than legislation or regulation. But I do insist (and with things like Th and U it is of course health and safety which is the issue) that in the absence of such legislation or regulation there is indeed a system still regulating the quality of goods provided.

It\’s called reputation: yes, I know this is an extreme example but in the tiny little world of weirdo and wonderful metals \”Worstall\” is a brand name and I make damn sure that that brand doesn\’t get damaged. Precisely and exactly because the maintenance of said brand makes me money.

As it does for Heinz, McDonalds\’, Johnson and Johnson* and everyone else out there trying to flog stuff to people.

*Anyone doubting this simple idea should try googling for \”Chicago Tylenol murders\”

13 thoughts on “Yup, Ritchie again”

  1. >You would not buy a coffee when out – it may not be safe. Or any food from supermarkets, for the same reason. Or drive a car – which would be a death trap.

    Yes, nobody ever bought anything before health and safety legislation was passed!

  2. What utter horseshit. I went to Cambodia and Vietnam last year and I’m pretty sure I had both coffee and food every day I was there.

    Mind you, I was sick as a pike my last day in Phnom Penh…

  3. You would not buy a coffee when out – it may not be safe.

    This isn’t health and safety, it’s quality control. The two are deliberately separate.

  4. The Pedant-General

    “This isn’t health and safety, it’s quality control. The two are deliberately separate.”

    Absolutely: one (generally) works and one (more often than that) ends up as a box ticking and largely futile time consuming waste of effort and money.

    Which is which is left as an exercise for the reader.

  5. It’s funny he mentions cars, because as far as I’m aware, there’s no regulation of tyre and brake fitters, despite the potential risks to health. You can, without any certificates, go into competition with Kwik Fit.

    The main thing with H&S should be to protect people from unseen risks to health. This was the big difference between kitchen inspections and smoky pubs. You know if a pub is smoky as soon as you open the door. You don’t know if food has been kept properly in the the fridge.

  6. “You would not buy a coffee when out…”

    Trivially proved wrong by the existence of many countries with no discernible H&S and also an absence of people dropping dead in the street after a coffee. The one I live in, Thailand, for starters.

  7. There’s this new thing I’ve heard about; the “market”, or some such. Apparently, if a product or service is bad, word gets around and people tend not to buy it, so the producer has an incentive to improve.

  8. There are plenty of products on the market which meet all the legislative criteria, but they are not all of equally good quality. This is why people take notice of brand names.

    And not all government interventions into product safety have been beneficial. A good example was the upgrading of minimal standards at abbattoirs, which caused many slaughterhouses to close. Ultimately, this led to the country-wide spread of foot and mouth disease.

    The Australian government recently mandated a new home insulation material which has killed four people, and set fire to hundreds of houses.

    Specialised products and services are often better off if their standards are regulated by industry boards, and politicians are kept at arms length.

  9. H&S now attempts to protect idiots from the consequences of their own folly, and makes the rest of us suffer as a result. Everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator (which thanks to our fabulous State Education System is amazingly low).

  10. My feelings towards Murphy some time ago shifted from derision to outright alarm. In certain circles, ones which potentially affect me or those about whom I care, his wrong-headedness has real and baleful consequences. He needs to be taken off at the knees before he kills someone.

    The H+S horseshit is liberally countered by history, anyway. Did the Clean Air Act of 1956 cause the massive improvement in London’s pollution statistics? No, pollution was already falling. A great deal of environmental legislation is reactive. The H+S causative arrow is backwards. And in many cases it’s strongly counter-productive, for example in the great asbestos fiasco, which in essence was nothing more than a bonanza for tort lawyers, and led to a huge transfer of money from productive citizens to said shysters with zero (or maybe negative) concomitant benefits to public health.

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