Sadly, it's true, environmental regulation kills people

Today's reminder of the basic economic lesson, that here are no solutions only trade offs, comes in the fled of environmental regulation. It is most certainly true that at least some such saves lives. But also, near all regulation is also going to cost lives as well. It is the net position that needs to be calculated and taken into account over any specific action, not the gross in one direction or the other.

We have a report on the general circumstance:

Regulations frequently aim to reduce mortality risk, and many of them may succeed to varying degrees. But regulations can also increase mortality risk in various ways owing to unintended consequences.

One of the general observations should be that yes, forcing people to do whatever in a more expensive manner may will save the lives of some of those doing it. But doing things more expensively also means resources that cannot be devoted to other activities, some of which might save more lives. Again, this is just a statement of an obvious economic truth, resources are scarce.

But we can be more specific too, as this example about Bangladeshi ship breaking yards points out. Regulation means that using rich country breaking yards is more expensive. This could be justified, might not be, that's not the point. That point being that there's a reaction to that extra expense:

 More than 800 large ships are broken up each year, the vast majority on Asian beaches. Owners can earn an extra $1m to $4m (£740,000 to £2.96m) per ship when selling to Asian yards via cash buyers, instead of opting for recycling yards with higher standards, says Jenssen.

In that more general sense that's $1 to $4 million per ship broken which cannot be devoted to other matters, resources really are scarce. In the more specific the higher standards at those rich country yards mean more breaking is occurring in these poor country ones. Quite possibly (no, not certainly, jut possibly) leading to an overall increase in danger and death rates than is the rich country regulation were weaker and thus cheaper - but still higher than those poor country yards.

No, this isn't an argument against all an any regulation anywhere. It's only one that insists we do not have solutions, only trade offs. As such our decision making has to be about those trade offs, something all too absent from all too many such discussions.