workplace safety

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Take the case of the elevator.

Sociologist Joseph Gittler proposed that Americans initially resisted the elevator for personal use because they didn’t quite understand how it worked and this opacity contributed to fear for their personal safety. People were asked to put their trust in a system they could not see. In the confines of the car, visions of frayed cables came easily. Not even Elisha Otis and his “safety elevator” design were initially well received. Although, in truth, his unveiling at the 1853 New York World’s Fair was perhaps a bit dramatic and may have contributed to the elevator’s worrying reputation. Otis’ design included a mechanism that would stop a falling car – a version of which is still in use today. At the World’s Fair he essentially stood on a platform rigged with his device, had someone cut the rope holding the platform up, and dropped spectacularly before coming to a complete stop. While this did wonders for his business, and helped launch Otis Steam Elevator Works, it did not necessarily discourage public concern.

From Scientific American

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Coercive power is government’s most frightening weapon (one that libertarian paternalists fear as much as libertarians), and the conventional wisdom inside and outside of academia says that bureaucracies that use this power to implement and enforce a given regulation will be more successful than those that do not.

Ironically, when looking at the data, there are a number of cases where coercion is not necessary for a successful policy (though no universal rules about when these cases occur).

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