David R. Henderson  

Japanese Voluntarism to Solve Social Problems

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The effort to clean up and shut down Japan's crippled, leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility will be long and dangerous. Just this week, two more workers in their 30s and 40s were reportedly exposed to potentially deadly amounts of radiation. That's nonsense, says a group of 250 over-60 retired engineers and other professionals with a strong sense of "sacrificial spirit." This selfless Skilled Veterans Corps -- dubbed the "suicide corps" -- is lobbying to take over the cleanup effort to spare Japan's younger workers. So far, Japan's government has declined the group's offer. But should it reconsider?
This is from a June 2011 article that I somehow missed. It's not necessarily voluntarism in the sense that the older engineers wouldn't be paid: I'm guessing that they would. But it's touching and neat nevertheless.

As a bonus, it warms the cockles of an economist's efficiency-seeking heart. We generally like to see lower-cost solutions to problems. And the older engineers think, with some reason, that they are lower cost. Here's how one of them, age 72, puts it in a companion article:

"Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop," Yamada said. "Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer."


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CATEGORIES: Labor Market



COMMENTS (7 to date)
Ken B writes:

Someone, might have been N N Taleb, observed that the essence of patriotism is, when filling lifeboats 'woman and children first'. The low cost solution from the perspective of the group. Something similar is afoot here.

Greg writes:

moral hazard: what if we get used to older people doing dangerous jobs and develop social norm where older people are expected to do the most dangerous jobs. would that be efficient? maybe? will it be right? ...........

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg,
Yes and yes. If they volunteer, it’s likely efficient and it’s right. There’s an automatic check that limits moral hazard: the fact that they volunteer.

Bob Murphy writes:

David, is there a way market prices can make this more quantitative? I.e. I'm thinking it shouldn't be up to individual workers to have to estimate the way taking such a job will impact their likelihood of getting cancer, etc. I'm thinking somehow insurance companies or something ought to get involved so that it's profitable to hire the older workers to do it but not the younger ones, but I'm not sure how to get off the ground with the thought experiment...

Mark Bahner writes:

Hi,

I'll need to research this. I don't know of any reason why two workers would be exposed to potentially lethal doses of radiation months after the accident.

But in any case, most 60+-year-old people simply aren't in good enough physical shape to be doing things are physically demanding for a 30 or 40-year-old. If it's a situation where spending 4 minutes gives twice the exposure of spending 2 minutes, sending in the older people can still get just as many people killed. (I'm assuming this is not "potentially lethal via cancer in 30 years.")

Mark Bahner writes:

Authoritive source for Fukushima worker exposures

Go to the table on the final page. There's no way that anyone in May or June was exposed to "potentially deadly amounts of radiation"...by any conventional understanding of that phrase.

The answer isn't to have sacrificial lambs...even if they are volunteering. The answer is to have good radiation protection protocols. Which the Fukushima plant appears to have had, based on that table.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mark Bahner,
Thanks. I still like the spirit of their voluntarism, but you seem to be right about the facts.
@Robert Murphy,
Good question. I think there’s the old-fashioned way that I used when I decided to work in a nickel mine. Ask a lot of questions, scope out the most-likely bad things that can happen, and then make sure you don’t do those things.

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