In yesterday’s post on the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, Joe B in comments pointed us out to the official MSHA statistics on mine deaths between 1900 and 2012. It’s remarkable. In 1907, 3,242 people died in coal mine accidents. That doesn’t include black lung or other occupational disease. And it is almost certainly underreported. The numbers begin falling in the 30s and collapse in the 60s and 70s. Although the job is still quite dangerous today, it’s nothing like the bad old days.
What changed? First, the success of the UMWA gave workers some voice on the job, although as we have seen in the labor history series, the leadership did not always care that much. Second was mechanization and moving people out of underground mining. Third was an activist federal government getting involved in workplace safety and working conditions.
And this gets us back to my utter contempt for those who think Rand Paul or any kind of libertarianism has anything positive to offer as a solution to our problems. If you think libertarianism is good, you either don’t care about dead coal miners or have never thought about dead coal miners (or loggers or ship workers or farm workers or whatever). The latter is forgivable ignorance at first, but once you aren’t ignorant, it isn’t forgivable. Big government is the best thing to happen to this country and if it were up to me, I’d make it a lot bigger and much more intrusive into the conditions of work.