Amputated fingers, market failures, and government intervention (day 116)

Table saws are terrifying, and about 10 people a day seriously (and permanently) injure themselves on them, with about 100 more people a day suffering lesser injuries but still ending up using healthcare resources. Injuries are estimated at $4 billion dollars a year; comparatively, injuries from firearms are estimated at between 700 million and $6.6 billion a year, diabetes 175-250 billion.

There’s a safety device that can basically make it so its nearly impossible to injure yourself with one of these saws. costs are rough, but it looks like $200 for the device (saws run ~200 new, while saws with the device ~$400). Basically, it detects a person touching the blade and stops it immediately. I didn’t believe it at first, but then, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Power Tool companies are fighting against the Consumer Product Safety Commission requiring new saws to have a safety device like this on them. While difficult to assess, the companies are probably correct that many consumers would buy the cheaper saw over the safer one if given a choice.

Especially with how healthcare costs are mandatorily socialized in the US now, society has a pretty big investment in reducing easily preventable healthcare costs. And this is a pretty slam-dunk piece of technology.

This is already long, so I’m going to save the heavy libertarian analysis for another day. I err libertarian on a lot of things, but this feels very similar to the indoor smoking ban in WI and other places: both the legal system and the markets were failing to incentivize everyone to move in a direction that made the world a better place.

All I can say is I think requiring new consumer sales to have this (or a similar) safety device sounds like a very reasonable regulatory compromise.

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