George Mason Economist Russ Roberts writes:
Every news story that I have seen treats the safety issue as a legitimate concern without wondering if there is anything to it. Turns out that according to a government study, 41% of inspected trucks crossing into the Mexican border were found to be unsafe. But how was that number collected? What does it really mean?
The lesson here is how easy it is to get what you want politically by making the issue one of safety or the children.
Roberts was writing about a NAFTA provision allowing Mexican trucking firms to operate in the US, but the extent to which unspecified “safety” issues slither their way into random articles is interesting. The extent to which those “safety” issues are uncritically reported is a little more disappointing. Enter this Detroit News article about above-ground pools:
Think you got your summer oasis on the cheap?
You could be in for a cold splash of reality.
State building code requires permits for those portable, inexpensive, vinyl-lined pools found in backyards across Metro Detroit. And in some communities, the permits can cost more than the pools themselves.
Heartwarming intro, I know. And why do we need permits? Safety, of course. As we are repeatedly reminded in the article:
The aim, they say, is to ensure safety. And while building officials don't hunt for homeowners skirting the law, people found breaking it can be fined and hauled into court.
"(People) may not be in the mindset that they need to have the same safety requirements as a permanent pool," she said.
"It's all about kids being able to enjoy the pool, but keeping in mind water always has the potential to be a danger."
And don’t forget the ominously-subtitled final section of the article, which informs us that “A child drowns every 5 days.” So how do these permits prevent that from happening? Uh…
To obtain building permits for portable pools, residents must submit an application to their local building department. The application must include plot plans that show the pool's dimensions and the locations of existing buildings and electrical wires, officials said.
That no make sense. In fact, nowhere in the article about requiring permits for above-ground pools in the name of protecting children do we learn how requiring permits for-above ground pools helps protect children. It’s almost as if these permits are not about safety at all, and in fact are required for some other reason. If only somebody – a local reporter, perhaps – could do some digging to figure out the real reason for these permits…
Roseville and St. Clair Shores charge $30 for the permit and a $25 inspection deposit. In Warren, a pool permit is $70, and in Livonia, $120; both cities charge a separate fee for associated electrical permits.
Which is immediately followed by this line:
The permit rules are designed to ensure safety and reduce the potential for drowning, said Irvin Poke, director of Michigan's Bureau of Construction Codes.
That’s some fine reporting there, Lou.