David R. Henderson  

Half-Staff for Farmers

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Each year, America sets aside a week to salute the men and women who do the difficult, dangerous, and often thankless work of safeguarding our communities. Our Nation's peace officers embody the very idea of citizenship -- that along with our rights come responsibilities, both to ourselves and to others. During Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week, we celebrate those who protect and serve us every minute of every day, and we honor the courageous officers who devoted themselves so fully to others that in the process they laid down their lives.


As we mourn the fallen, let us also remember how they lived. With unflinching commitment, they defended our schools and businesses. They guarded prisons; patrolled borders; and kept us safe at home, on the road, and as we went about our lives. To their families, we owe an unpayable debt. And to the men and women who carry their mission forward, we owe our unyielding support.


These are the opening paragraphs of President Obama's Proclamation for Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week, 2014. Obama goes on to call for having U.S. flags at half mast.

But just how risky is police work? Not as risky as farming.

I'm not going to go all Paul Harvey "So God Made a Farmer" on you, although whenever I hear that, I almost cry. I'm just focusing on what Obama focuses on: fatality rates.

In Aaron Wldavsky and Adam Wildavsky, "Risk and Safety," in David R. Henderson, ed., The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, is a table that gives the fatality rate for various occupations. For every 100,000 police, the annual fatality rate is 20. For every 100,000 farmers, it is 40% higher, at 28.


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CATEGORIES: Labor Market



COMMENTS (19 to date)
Ted Levy writes:

Not only is the fatality rate for policing fairly low, the majority of deaths that DO occur are not the result of police officers tragically losing their lives in shoot-outs with villains in order to product the public. The majority are due to speeding, with ensuring traffic accidents. And of those due to speeding, the majority are NOT due to speeding to the scene of a crime. Many are due to speeding to a second job.

LD Bottorff writes:

This motorcyclist (death rate 65) and former skydiver wants to know: what is the difference between sport parachuting (death rate 200) and skydiving (death rate 58)? Presumably any skydiving that does NOT involve a parachute will result in a death rate of 1000.

David R. Henderson writes:

@LD Bottorff,
This motorcyclist (death rate 65) and former skydiver wants to know: what is the difference between sport parachuting (death rate 200) and skydiving (death rate 58)? Presumably any skydiving that does NOT involve a parachute will result in a death rate of 1000.
Actually, if there were no parachute, the death rate would be something closer to 100,000, not 1,000.
But to your question: I think sport parachuting involves opening the chute as soon as you jump, whereas with skydiving, you dive a little before opening.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"sport parachuting" is using a parachute to break your fall. You could be falling from an airplane ("skydiving") or a fixed object ("BASE jumping").

http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:202326/FULLTEXT02.pdf

LD Bottorff writes:

Prof. Henderson,
Of course, the death rate would be 100,000. My simple mistake.

Mr. Econotrarian,
Thanks for the clarification. If skydiving is only sport parachuting from airplanes, while the sport parachuting category includes BASE jumping, then the higher death rate makes sense. BASE jumping is extremely risky because your margin for error is so much smaller. It would have made more sense to break down the categories into BASE jumping and skydiving.

Mark Bahner writes:

Neither of those is even close to fisherpersons:

Fishing...scary stuff

libfree writes:

I think the amazing part to everyone would be how much it diverged from 100,000. Even 1 would be amazing but from wikipedia.

Overall, the height at which 50% of children die from a fall is between four and five storey heights (around 40 to 50 feet or 12 to 15 metres) above the ground.

While skydiving I was told that most humans stop accelerating after 5 stories

Harold Cockerill writes:

The danger in farming is you're working with heavy equipment and are alone a great deal of the time. When accidents happen no one is close to call 911 and survivable accidents turn deadly.

zc writes:

Great post!

The endless talk of veritable sainthood for everyone who has a public sector job deserves the criticism you raise. Public service is a great irony when the 'servants' compensation rivals that of the private sector, not to mention the praising of their 'sacrifice' for a job they voluntarily take.

Daniel Klein writes:

Nice post.

Cops etc. are, the mythology goes, collectively appointed and rewarded by us to serve us. Us taking care of us. The people's romance. Not so with farmers, fishermen, and so on.

Norman Pfyster writes:

I realize this is a libertarian site, but you really don't see the difference between dying providing a public good and dying providing a private good, and why one might be lauded more than the other?

Don't forget loggers. When a tree falls in a forest, occasionally it hits one of them.

JKB writes:

Norm Pfyster,

The difference is only conceptual. Both the individual providing the public service as well as the individual doing private work are motivated by the same thing, i.e., earning profit from their efforts, namely wages. The private worker contributes to his community just as the government's hired help does.

Now if you wish to consider those taken away from their chosen work by posse comitatus for police work or who leaves their work for military service in a time of danger, then you've someone who has given a service above and beyond a choice in employment.

For better or worse, work is work. Others do nasty jobs, perhaps for private employers, that we would notice much faster if they stopped than police officer. True some urban areas might experience an upsurge in crime in the absence of police, but just until the citizens took up their duty to protect their community and ended those threatening individuals. Police are hired help to provide routine duties in community defense once those duties become sufficiently disruptive to the citizen's normal economic activity.

adbge writes:

I started writing a comment, but it became long enough that I fleshed it into its own post, "Jobs More Dangerous Than You Thought."

I’m going to propose we replace Police Week with Fisherman Week, because it’s about 6 times more dangerous to be a fisherman than a police officer. (And who doesn’t love a good tuna steak?)

Or maybe we should keep Police Week, but dedicate 6 weeks to celebrating fishermen. It’s only fair. And, of course, three weeks to pilots and people involved with flying, along with a solid two weeks for garbage men.

J Nellis writes:

JKB, I agree with your post to Norm Pfyster, up to a point. While the prescribed reason for hiring policemen is to provide community defense, their true activities amount to little more than carrying out the laws and edicts handed down by the ruling class. In other words, the bulk of their existence is spent chasing down and extracting wealth from or imprisoning the serfs, for engaging in behaviors that are little more than vices or more appropriately, victimless acts.

JKB writes:

J Nellis,

It's come to that, yes. The police serve those who pay them and they see their pay coming from their political masters who are controlled by the "elite".

It is not unlike what happens in the sci fi robot movies. Robots are created to serve people and relieve them of some tedious task. Soon the robots decide they know best or come under the control of a small minority. The robots then, in the guise of service, come to dominate the populace. It has been the same with law enforcement.

Tel writes:

The farmer won't come around and shoot your dog if you say you don't like the taste of his tomatoes.

JKB writes:

I found this article from Adam Smith Institute discussing the rise in death rate in North Dakota gave me and interesting perspective on this post.

Consider, if those police officers pounded their guns into plowshares and became farmers, we'd expect more of them to die on the job, even after they developed a similar level of occupational expertise.

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