Building Codes, Your Thoughts Please …
I support the right of local government to enforce building codes if the citizens in those areas want them. Yesterday’s deck collapse in Wildwood has this issue in the news, and since nobody was seriously hurt, thank God, we can discuss building without being macabre. I would be interested if any of our more libertarian writers or readers wanted to argue against building codes in the comments section. I know that some libertarians, at least, are opposed to them.
Unfortunately, Missouri has a rather prominent history in the area of structural collapses. Those painful memories might explain why the Kansas City Star is covering a relatively minor deck collapse in St. Louis. I support the use of building codes because they fairly fit into a strict definition of “health, safety, and welfare,” and I think there is a legitimate government interest in making sure buildings are built safely. Opponents of a smoking ban quite correctly say that smoke, unlike E. coli, is plainly visible when you choose whether or not to enter a restaurant, and as such you are free to make a personal choice. It is not reasonable to expect someone to review the conditions of every structure they enter before they set foot in it.
Now, let’s be clear, here. The hotel tragedy and arena failure linked to above were obviously constructed under codes and approved by inspectors, so no system is perfect. And we have no idea, yet, whether the deck in Wildwood was permitted and inspected, or whether it was built on the sly. A recent tragic deck collapse in Chicago occurred on a deck built without permits, so obviously these terrifying things can happen under any system. But, if a permitting and inspection system makes them less likely, and the citizens of a community choose to have codes, then I don’t think anyone’s rights are violated by building codes and I support their enforcement.
From the article mentioning libertarian attitudes about building codes, in the first paragraph:
* Libertarians will allow creation and enforcement of voluntary building codes. Government-imposed building codes are coercive invasions of human liberties and need to be speedily eliminated. But what, if anything, will take their place?
Trusting the courts and arbitration to settle property disputes in place of zoning is one thing. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it makes some sense. But trusting that everyone will construct property up to safety standards because they might be sued if someone dies when the roof collapses is a little nuts. I’ll note that the engineers in the Kansas City hotel collapse were successfully sued and lost their licenses, but they were not criminally charged. The arbitration panel doesn’t do you any good if you get impaled on a rod in a collapse.
I would like to criticize the redundancy — certainly intentional — of having both strict building codes and strict licensing of tradesman. One, or perhaps the other, can do the job the government is looking for, but you really don’t need both. Either license people beforehand to make sure the work is done right, or carefully inspect if after it’s done to make sure, but you don’t need to do both. In our largest cities and counties in Missouri, we have both, and the reasons for this have more to do with political power and union control than public safety.