Is This a Legitimate Role for the State?
Mandating Quality in Construction and Production
Of course we want quality products. But do we want government to force us to produce them? If politicians and bureaucrats know whatís best for everyone else, then you could be fined or jailed for, say, not carrying medical insurance. Where do we draw the line? Or, can we devise a system in which people behave responsibly without needing the threat of the state to prod them? We trim, blend, and append two 2010 articles from (1) frequent contributor Joel Hirschhorn, a retired materials and manufacturing engineer with decades of experience with failure analysis of manufactured products, on Toyota, and (2) the BBC, March 9, on earthquake-proof.
by Joel S. Hirschhorn and by the BBC
Understanding Toyota Sudden Acceleration
Little more than 1,000 Toyota and Lexus owners have reported since 2001 that their vehicles suddenly accelerated on their own. This is a minuscule percentage of Toyotas on the road.
Moreover, the defect does not ordinarily impair vehicle performance but only manifests itself under some infrequent conditions, as yet undetermined. Thus, perfectly normal vehicle performance is possible between runaway events.
The precise cause of such a sporadic event is incredibly difficult to pin down and even more difficult to remedy. An extremely intense and costly investigation is necessary. It is the classic needle-in-the-haystack problem.
This means that replacing floor mats and gas pedals are not solutions. More than 60 Toyota owners have complained to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about cars already repaired under the two major Toyota recalls, saying their throttles can still race out of control.
Finding the cause requires a standard failure analysis methodology, namely to obtain absolutely every Toyota vehicle that has experienced sudden acceleration. Then meticulously examine through microscopic and other types of analysis and testing all critical components of the electronic system. Think of it like an autopsy.
To the contrary, the firm hired by Toyota tested several ordinary vehicles and components. One of the primary authors of the Exponent report said they did not examine any vehicles or components that had the unintended accelerations. Yet the defect is rare, non-systemic, and therefore not finding it was meaningless. Worse, it was a deception and distraction.
In my professional opinion, the likely scenario is a defect in a semiconductor chip used in the electronic control system. A defect that was caused by some infrequent flaw in a raw material or manufacturing process that would not show up in routine quality control testing of raw materials or components. That so many different Toyota models over many years have been found defective signifies the likelihood of a particular problem component made in a specific factory that has been used for quite a while.
Most cars lack an override system that prevents fuel being fed to the engine when brakes are employed. The federal government is considering requiring such an override system in all vehicles. An effective override system might, in the long run, be a faster and more cost-effective solution than chasing-the-defect strategy, especially for retrofitting many millions of vehicles.
JJS: While government should require sellers to sell safe products (since buyers canít know how well something was made), should officeholders have the power to require people to make products safe for themselves? If you build an unsafe home for yourself, yet close to others or have children live in it, should the law step in?
Turkey earthquake prompts homes rethink
Turkey's prime minister says he has ordered architectural changes in an eastern region where 51 people were killed in an earthquake.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed the high level of casualties on mud-brick buildings used in the area.
The government disaster management centre and Turkish Red Crescent have set up tents to help survivors cope with the harsh winter weather, and are also distributing food and blankets.
Turkey, which is crossed by the Northern and Eastern Anatolian fault lines, suffers from frequent earthquakes.
Many of them are minor, though a 7.4-magnitude tremor which hit the western city of Izmit in August 1999 killed more than 17,000 people.
The latest, a 6.0-magnitude quake, struck before dawn on Monday, toppling buildings in five villages. An earthquake with this magnitude should not usually cause any deaths, said earthquake expert Ahmet Mete Isikara.
Critics call for Turkey to learn lessons from the quake, which commentators said would not have caused such a high toll in other earthquake-prone countries such as Japan.
JJS: Turkish homes probably wouldn't be made of mud brick if the Turks had as much money as the Japanese. So, OK, do require people to erect better buildings, but also let them rise up out of poverty. Donít tax their their businesses, their wages, and their homes; the conventional property tax makes earthquake-proofing even more expensive. Instead, levy taxes, fees, and dues to recover the value of land. That will spur any speculators to get busy; their construction and marketing will create jobs. Plus, use some of the recovered socially-generated value of land to pay citizens a dividend. Money in the pocket makes it much easier to afford better buildings. Thus geonomic revenue policy would enable the rulersí earthquake policy.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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