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Tianjin, Texas

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Above: The 2013 West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

There’s been a lot of media discussion over the past week about Chinese workplace safety conditions because of the Tianjin explosion that killed more than 150 people and spewed toxic material into the air. The problem is a lack of regulatory control, corruption, and a culture of indifference to the general public. And this is a major problem in China, with another blast in another city yesterday killing someone.

But it would be nice if these reporters noted that a mere 2 years ago in Texas, a very similar incident happened in the town of West, where a fertilizer plant exploded and killed 15 people. Governor Rick Perry’s response was to declare Texas open for business, ensuring that nothing would change. And with OSHA so understaffed that it would take 129 years for the agency’s inspectors to visit every workplace in the United States, very little has improved. Moreover, Tianjin and West is the America libertarians want to embrace. The freedom of factory owners to site factories where they want, store chemicals how they want, and not be responsible for the forthcoming disaster is central to conservative philosophy. So while we should be talking about Tianjin and these problems in China, casting an eye on the United States is also important for journalists, for the comparisons are not as far-fetched as one might hope.

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  • DrDick

    This, along with a million Bhopals and Rana Plazas, is the libertarian dream for America.

  • Gwen

    According to totally-cereal Internet sources like Mike “Health Ranger” Adams, the Tianjin explosion was not the result of ineptitude or poor planning, but rather a top-secret test of an American space weapon, unleashed about the Chinese as revenge for devaluing the RMB the day before.

    Of course, it’s totes obvious that the West explosion was also a test of Obama’s new space gun. Jade Helm! Muslim Kenyan tyrant takeover! Hide your guns and bibles!

    In seriousness: one of the problems to preventing a future West is that a lot of people in Central Texas, and elsewhere, have a basically-superstitious world view when it comes to these things. For a lot of people, this wasn’t a preventable workplace disaster; it was another way that life (which is hard) tests us to build character, blah blah blah.

    You first have to overcome fatalism and cynicism before anything is going to change.

    And perhaps one of the under-reported stories about China seems to be, that the people there are getting really fatalistic and cynical vis-a-vis the Communist Party.

    • ThrottleJockey

      The thing is, the people of West, TX couldn’t be happier about, as Perry put it, “staying open for business”. So they die, its on them.

    • ajp

      You first have to overcome fatalism and cynicism dumbassery before anything is going to change.

    • Lt. Fred

      I’m not unconvinced that just being told to grow up by an authority figure won’t clear up a lot of that magical thinking.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Not only did Perry declare Texas “open for business”; less than six months after the explosion, he ran around Northern states telling everyone who would listen about how much better the Texas “business environment” was than Illinois, Minnesota, etc. I wish one of those governors had had the nerve to retort, “Sure, move to Texas. Just check the distance to the nearest fertilizer plant.”

    • Phil Perspective

      There you have your answer my Democrats have become so rare at state level offices across the U.S. Most Democratic governors are “pro-business” Democrats. So the few that get elected in the first place would never do that. Then everyone wonders why Democrats don’t vote in non-presidential years!!

  • The article in the Times over the weekend–not sure if it’s the one you linked–had several points that certainly could happen here, from the contractor who did whatever was asked without complaining about not getting the resources needed to store stuff safely, to the academic whose government contracts dried up when he kept pointing out safety hazards. Regulations? They had those, it seemed, but they were understood to be not worth taking too seriously.

  • swkellogg

    “Moreover, Tianjin and West is the America libertarians want to embrace. The freedom of factory owners to site factories where they want, store chemicals how they want, and not be responsible for the forthcoming disaster is central to conservative philosophy.”

    Okay, but out of fairness you need to acknowledge the other half of the libertarian equation:

    The worker is free to choose the plant he gets blown up in.

    • efgoldman

      The worker is free to choose the plant he gets blown up in.

      Well, not exactly. S/he may choose not to get blown up at all, and starve instead.

  • Pingback: While I’m Musing About China and the US… | Swinging dead cats()

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