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Prosperity and Safety

Here’s a letter that I sent to the Washington Post:

You report that experts give much of the credit for the relatively low death toll of Chile’s recent earthquake to “the nation’s enactment and enforcement of stringent building codes” – codes that were largely absent in Haiti (“Chile reels in aftermath of quake, emergency workers provide aid,” March 1).

With a market-oriented economy, per-capita income in Chile is more than ten times higher than is per-capita income in Haiti.  One result is that Chileans demand and can afford better-constructed buildings – buildings designed by more-skilled architects, made of stronger materials, and erected (and maintained) by better-trained and more highly specialized workers.

Chile has – and enforces – tough building codes because it can afford them.  Building codes of equal stringency in Haiti would be dead letters because Haitians simply cannot afford the level of safety that Chileans now enjoy.

Credit Chile’s low death toll not to what its politicians do, but rather to what they don’t do: meddle excessively in the market.

Donald J. Boudreaux