Life Expectancy and Economic Developemnt
Table I

A common attitude among reactionary environmentalists is that in formulating health, safety and environmental regulations we should ignore the economic costs of those regulations. As Laurie Mott of the Natural Resources Defense Council put it, there is "no room for consideration of the benefits of pesticides." [142] Yet from the point of view of health and safety, it's hard to imagine worse advice. As it turns out, higher incomes for countries and for individuals contribute more to good health and life expectancy than all government health and safety regulations combined. In general, the higher our income, the more options we have – to change our lifestyle, regulate our diet and select our risks. [143]

Case Study: Life Expectancy and Economic Growth. The higher our income, the more likely we are to fly rather than drive, to drive larger and therefore safer cars, to pay for safety equipment and safety-enhancing maintenance on our automobiles, to maintain working smoke alarms in our homes, etc. Higher incomes open the door to literally thousands of opportunities to improve our health and safety.

Table I presents life expectancy data from countries around the world. As the table shows, people in more developed countries have considerably longer life expectancies than people at lower levels of economic development. What is true of whole societies is also true of the individuals within them. For example: [144]

  • In England, adult males in the highest socioeconomic class earn more than twice as much as individuals in the lowest socioeconomic class.

  • Death from cancer among males in the highest socioeconomic class is 25 percent below the national average and death from respiratory disease is 63 percent below.

  • In contrast, death from cancer and respiratory disease is 31 percent and 87 percent above the national average, respectively, among males in the lowest socioeconomic class.

Similar evidence exists for the United States. One study of mortality and income for U. S. counties found that a 20 percent increase in income reduces mortality by 1.0 percent. [145] Based on this study, Peter Huber calculated that increasing the income of a 45-year-old man working in manufacturing by 15 percent would do more to extend his life expectancy than eliminating every single hazard from his workplace. [146]

Case Study: Government Regulation of Health and Safety. Government regulation in general, and health and safety regulation in particular, may have done far more harm than good when measured solely in terms of effects on health. For example: [147]

  • Between 1959 and 1969, productivity in U. S. manufacturing increased by almost one percent annually.

  • Between 1973 and 1978, however, manufacturing productivity fell by more than one-half of one percent annually.

Studies indicate that a significant portion of this drop was caused by regulations imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA. In particular: [148]

  • Thirty-one percent of the overall drop in manufacturing productivity was due to regulatory burdens created during the 1970s by OSHA and the EPA.

  • Nineteen percent of the drop in productivity growth was due to OSHA regulations and 12 percent to regulation by the EPA.

Moreover, the productivity drop between 1973 and 1978 did not affect all industries equally. Productivity fell by more than two percent per year in highly regulated industries, yet rose during the same period in less regulated ones.

Increases in workers' incomes are roughly equal to increases in productivity, thus the damage to health and safety OSHA and the EPA have caused by reducing income growth may have more than offset any health improvements these agencies have made through regulation. [149]