James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation applies Bastiat’s “broken windows” fallacy to the arguments of David Michaels, OSHA Administrator, to shattering effect. From “Jobs, Regulations and Broken Windows“:
[Michaels] cited OSHA’s recently withdrawn proposal to limit workplace noise. The standard was criticized for imposing excessive costs. But Michaels argued the requirements would be a boon to private enterprise. “[B]ecause OSHA has a weak noise standard…,” he explained, “U.S. employers have no incentive to buy modern, quieter machines, which means that U.S. manufacturers don’t build them, and there are few jobs in the United States for engineers who could design them.” Imposing mandates would presumably create those jobs, boosting the economy.
That would be a good thing if true. Think of how easy it would be for regulators to rev up the economy. Just place more burdens on businesses, and see the economy grow as they spend money to comply with them. That, however, is simply not the way the world works. Michaels’ argument is nonsense on stilts.
Frederic Bastiat, the 19th Century French economist, refuted the argument that breaking windows produced net economic benefits. Yes, glaziers did well in the repairs, but the work misallocated capital that could be better spent on more productive investments.
It’s not only regulators who base their arguments on jobs without the context of productivity or greater economic good, Gattuso notes.
[Some] have argued that pending FCC “net neutrality” rules would destroy jobs because the marketplace “losers” would be telephone and cable firms who employ large numbers of people, while the “winners” would be lean Internet content firms such as Google and Amazon.com, who have relatively small workforces. But such arguments completely miss the point. The problem with net neutrality rules has nothing to do with protecting fat telephone and cable payrolls. The problem is that, by interfering with innovation and investment, the recently-adopted rules will stymie growth of the Internet. That will probably mean fewer jobs for the economy as a whole – but certainly it would mean fewer benefits for society.
The goal should not be jobs, but wealth creation.