Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Another edition of "Laws That Don't Work"

Jonathan Klick and Thomas Stratmann, two George Mason professors, have put up a new article on SSRN: Offsetting Behavior in the Workplace. Here's the abstract:
This paper examines the effect of workplace safety regulations on worker safety. Studies in this area must overcome the issue that regulations and worker safety are jointly determined and that regulatory resources are likely to focus on the worst offenders. We examine the effects of regulatory enforcement in the 1990s on occupational death rates by state in major industries, and propose an instrumental variables technique to isolate the causal effect of regulatory enforcement on worker safety. We find that more inspections lead to higher death rates at a statistically significant level. This counter-intuitive result suggests that increased worker safety measures induce riskier behaviors on the part of workers.
What this thesis brings to mind is Sam Peltzman's famous 1975 paper on the effects of automobile safety regulation; to wit, safety regulation such as seat belt laws may have little benefit or even perverse effects because drivers respond by driving more recklessly. (Some may point out that the subsequent literature on the effects of auto safety legislation has shown mixed results, although one recent paper strongly supports the thesis of offsetting behavior.)


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