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I’m going dataless for the moment, but I suspect my guesses here are close. If you were to, right now, take 1 additional trip in your car and compare the risk of injury or death to taking 1 additional trip on a bicycle and 1 additional trip on a subway or 1 additional trip on a bus or 1 additional trip on an airplane, your chances of dying and injury would be largest by driving in a car if you’re over the Las Vegas alcohol limit. Holding constant the obvious reasons why people may prefer one or the other, if you actually cared about the safety of people in the transportation sector, would it not make sense to (in addition to promoting car safety), purposefully make airplanes crash more often? Similarly, wouldn’t we want to see buses and trains and bikes and boats become more dangerous? As long as, at the margin, those modes of transportation will still be safer than car driving, then by making those other modes more dangerous you would be making them cheaper, and therefore transitioning some people from their cars and onto the now slightly more dangerous than before (but still safer than cars) other modes of transportation?

The logic here is undeniable. I am sure it is not something you want to suggest in conversations at your next dinner party should you want to be invited to another one.

11 Responses to “Saying This Out Loud Will Land You at the MARGINS of Acceptability”

  1. Ally says:


    Your argument seems to be something along the following lines:

    1. Cars are a more dangerous form of transport than bikes / planes / buses / trains / etc.
    2. Purposefully making bikes / planes / buses / trains / etc. more dangerous will make them cheaper.
    3. Making bikes / planes / buses / trains / etc. cheaper will encourage more people to use them relative to cars.

    I do not follow the ‘undeniable’ logic here. Specifically, I do not agree with step 2. in the above syllogism.

    Could you explain how making for example, airplanes, more dangerous makes them cheaper? Or is this whole post an ironic take on some topical news piece that I’ve completely missed?

    • Seattle Steve says:

      I interpret this as making safer forms of transportation cheaper at the risk of making them more dangerous. For example, reducing the number of crew on planes would lead to cheaper tickets, but with some additional risk. The risk may double the number of crashes, but the death rate would still be orders of magnitude smaller than auto travel. The number of plane trips supplanting auto trips, deaths at a much higher rate, could easily cover the additional airline deaths. Simple math, but certainly would lead to not being invited to the next dinner party.

      • Ally says:

        That makes sense.

        I’m not sure I’d put it quite the same way Wintercow has though. He talks of “purposefully [making] airplanes crash more often”. I think this is putting it too strongly.

        It’s not that we wish to purposefully make airplanes crash more often, more that we could ease up a bit on the engineering / training / safety regulations / equipment / etc. and accept the tradeoff of a few additional aircraft incident deaths because it would be more than outweighed by reduced car accident deaths.

        I think the word ‘purposefully’ is doing too much work here.

        • wintercow20 says:

          I definitely use the term purposefully … on … purpose.

          It’s a term of discipline. When students study the logic of emergent orders, they still cannot easily appreciate that many of the outcomes they examine were not intentionally designed – they only look like they were “purposefully” put there. The best example is to listen to the way people talk about the “distribution of income.” And so as the discussions of “let’s make the distribution of income narrower” so too will I continue to discuss “making airplanes crash” …

          If it is obvious in the case of airplanes, then it should be just as obvious in the general case as well.

          • Ally says:

            Are you saying you are intentionally using a term that is somewhat misleading because others’ do so?

            There is a difference between purposefully crashing an aircraft and accepting a higher probability that the same aircraft may crash because you decided to cut back a bit on maintenance, or ‘streamline’ the pre-flight checks.

            I think it’s misleading to describe these as the same thing.

            Or have I just completely misunderstood you?

  2. wintercow20 says:

    I am making the distinction between intentional action and unintentional outcomes. So no, I am not saying in a positive sense, “make airplanes crash” but of course making them cheaper will very likely make them crash more.

    • Ally says:

      Thanks for clarifying.

      Reminds me of the link between seatbelts and driving more recklessly identified by Sam Peltzman.

      Keep up the good work on the blog.

  3. Alex says:

    Wouldn’t some people substitute away from planes if they perceive planes as more dangerous? Or are you assuming on net, substitution from cars to planes?

    Also might there be other ways to make cars relatively more expensive (e.g. making them safer)? Obv that might not be the most efficient solution but still…

    • wintercow20 says:

      “Making plans crashier” is idiomspeak for “make these forms of transportation relatively cheaper”

      But you identify an even more important concept … that, at the margin, there is no way to make any of these people who commute ANY better off! If you write that blog post I will publish it. SOMEONE will be made better off, but it won’t be the commuters. My point was only that if we cared about overall safety, of course, there probably should be a shift out of cars and into something else, and of course there are many ways to go from here to there.

  4. Scott says:

    Just a great discussion. I have so many thoughts. I haven’t read anything, but my gut feeling is no, this is all wrong, this is way too cantesian, this is way too Anglo Saxon, yes there is a positive correlation between safety and regulation, but the correlations is not 1, and as Peter thiel said the world is run by power distributions not normal, which is why coors can do good aquisitions even when 80% of aq. fail, and what I mean by that is since the 747 has a better chance to land safely than the wright brothers third try, clearly innovation and safety are also positively correlated, so the same regulations that decrease the chance of a crash tmrw increase the rate of crashes 10 yrs from now, so therefore these regulations are killing more people than they are saving, progress is good and death is bad, there are no contradictions (rand), way too many people are dying in plane crashes right now.

  5. Scott says:

    Please disregard everything I just commented. Gear then steer, read then comment, I still forget those basic rules. juat saw the Facebook headline and thought this was a different issue we’ve discussed here before and wanted to get in before convo was way over. But this is a different issue.

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