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Tuesday
Apr052011

What’s the market alternative to this big government program?

In our zeal to get rid of Big Government, let's not throw any babies out with the bath water.  For example, as a result of government programs, each mile driven on US streets and highways is 85% less likely to cause your death now than it was in 1949, 80% less likely than in 1966, and half as likely as in 1989, according to unpublished data obtained from NHTSA.

graph of NHTSA data show US fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled declined steadily from 7 in 1949 to 1 in 2010 This dramatic improvement has been driven by regulations and standards (seat belts, air bags, head restraints, infant seats, crash resistance, collapsible steering columns, rollover resistance, tire quality, drunk driving enforcement, etc.) and  by government spending on safer roadways. If there is a plausible explanation for how this might have been accomplished as efficiently (or at all) by market forces, I haven't heard it. Furthermore, the achievement came in spite of concurrent regulatory programs requiring better fuel economy (fuel consumption per vehicle mile traveled is down 40% from 1975) and vastly reduced per-mile pollution. Looks like a very big success to me. 

Government isn't the answer to every problem, but it isn't always the problem either, Ronald Reagan's rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. Let's try to get past the slogans and ideology and look at the merits of individual government programs--before we start them and when we consider ending or defunding them.

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