Pushed Down a Slippery Slope?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A sports columnist at the New York Times proposes, in all seriousness, that mountain and rock climbing, of all activities, be regulated.

I am not making this up.

Mountaineering and rock climbing have always been high-risk sports. The question now: As populations grow richer, as the globe grows smaller and adventure becomes more of a commodity, are people getting a bit carried away, risking life and limb for mere thrills? Should the authorities step in with greater regulation to promote safety?
The article goes on to cite statistics on the high rates of death and injury associated with these sports. (One study actually shows the activities to be safer than pregnancy, but rather than pooh-poohing it like the author, let's set it aside for the sake of argument.)

Doesn't everyone already know that climbing up the sides of rocks is dangerous? Even the article acknowledges this indirectly, as it notes that some climbers ignore the well-known risks and that, in one safety survey, greater climbing experience surprisingly did not mean a lower death rate from accidents. (It astounds and amuses me that the author would find this surprising, and yet simultaneously imagine that government-imposed safety measures would solve the problem.)
What does that translate to? Forty-seven percent of the climbers had been involved in accidents that resulted in multiple bone fractures, head and spinal injuries. Those injuries did not dissuade them from continuing with the sport. The rate of death from climbing was 8.2 percent over the period, something that Mr. Montasterio said was "alarming" and that "supports other evidence that climbing is a dangerous sport."
To which I say: So what? Nobody forced these people to risk their lives on the edge of a rock somewhere.

This cry for regulation omits two obvious questions: (1) Who is getting killed or maimed here? (2) Whom is the government protecting from whom? The whole idea of the government regulating an activity very few people participate in (for good reason!), and which puts only the participants at risk exposes the fashionable urge to regulate everything we do as collectivist.

By regulating this activity, the government would admittedly be adding no new knowledge to the equation (not that it is the government's job to teach). It would merely be overriding the decisions by some individuals to participate in an activity that harms -- no, might harm -- only themselves. What personal decision could be exempt once such a premise is accepted? Do we not own our own lives? If so, isn't the risk we partake with any activity our own to assess and judge acceptable or not? The government cannot protect the right of an individual to live his own life by his own best judgement -- by routinely butting in every time someone decides to do something.

Mountaineering is a steep slope I choose to avoid, but I recognize the call to regulate it as an attempt to force me down the shallower -- but slippery and more dangerous -- slope of government meddling.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Dismuke said...

Typical New York Times - concerned about risk that individuals voluntarily choose to undertake themselves - but they put their hands over their eyes and look the other way when it comes to the very real risks posed by socialized medicine/ObamaCare which are involuntarily thrust upon people.

On the other hand, people who indulge in mountain climbing usually tend to be at least somewhat affluent and pay taxes. Thus they are not risking just their inconsequential lives but also the labor and revenue that they produce that society and the government depend upon. Thus they have to be stopped from putting their own interests above society by placing the revenue they send to the government at risk.

Whereas with socialized medicine/ObamaCare the risk is managed by the rationing boards/Death Panels which determine who is and is not socially useful and thereby worthy or not worthy of scarce resources, medicines and treatments.

In other words, with both of these risks, mountain climbing and socialized medicine, people needlessly die. But with socialized medicine, at least the government gets to determine who dies based upon their value to the rest of society - while the people who die mountain climbing are putting their greedy selfish pleasure seeking over the good of society and placing their ability to fulfill their social obligations at risk. Perhaps the solution is a 100 percent death tax on all assets owned by people killed in mountain climbing accidents plus a several year surcharge on the income taxes paid by those who otherwise would have been their heirs. That would be a solution that I am sure the Times would be comfortable with.

Gus Van Horn said...

Ah! Maybe your last line explains why the Times didn't simply call for an outright ban...

Anonymous said...

There have been multiple studies showing that safety protocols do not, oddly enough, make us safer. The number of brain injuries to boxers skyrocketed once they were forced to use boxing gloves--no one ever realized, and most still don't, that in bare-knuckle boxing the hand breaks before the head. Similarly, new safety equipment in cars (air bags, seat belts, backup alarms, etc) don't lower accident rates or fatalities. The reason is that the human brain accepts a certain amount of risk, unconsciously in most people, and when new safety protocols are put into place people take more risks, because, well, they can.

Instituting safety regulations on inherently dangerous activities like rock climbing will almost certainly make the activities far riskier, and will definitely make them far, far more expensive.

Gus Van Horn said...

I agree that regulations can cause people to accept more risk than they otherwise might, but may disagree with your reasoning, which sounds borderline deterministic to me.

What happens, I think, is that with regulations (and the inevitable certifications that go with them) in place, people are lulled into complacency. ("Someone has already looked into this for me and found it safe. I don't have to.") The real level of risk is unknown, but made to look, perhaps, lower than it really is.