Buildings Collapsing: the Fault of Capitalism?

August 18, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021


What do we learn from the story of the Three Little Pigs? One of them built his house out of straw, the other of wood, and the third, the smartest, did so out of brick. Then, when the Big Bad Wolf came a-calling, huffing and puffing and trying to blow their houses down, only the latter survived.

It would appear that construction of edifices in some of our major cities have been built out of straw and wood, not brick. How do we know that? The recent building collapses in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Miami are high-profile cases in point.

It’s only to be expected that the “usual suspects” would blame capitalism, and capitalists, for these disasters.

For example, regarding New Orleans, ABC News reported: “OSHA cited the ‘willful’ and ‘serious’ violations of Heaslip Engineering LLC as the main reasons for the building’s collapse, according to documents filed by the federal agency.”

In the view of Workers World: “Two preventable catastrophes caused by capitalist greed in housing construction occurred four years and thousands of miles apart, and in both cases the tragic loss of human life was horrendous. While Florida’s building collapse is affecting a more affluent grouping in the U.S., the earlier disaster at Grenfell Tower in England impacted a lower-income community, with a majority of people of color, many of them immigrants.”

Socialist newspaper The Militant headlined its analysis: “Florida building collapse product of capitalist greed.”

An op-ed in The Washington Post notes, “To be clear, it’s perfectly possible that the Surfside collapse represents a failure of capitalism, or at least of the capitalists who built the building. Indeed, in one sense, that seems indisputable: Buildings should not collapse a few decades after they were constructed.”

And in the considered opinion of the Party for Socialism and Liberation: “[The] Surfside, Florida, condo collapse [is] a product of capitalism’s systemic flaws.”

There are difficulties, however, with this perspective.

For one thing, government buildings, too, collapse. The issue is not, then, whether private enterprise construction is perfect or not; we’re on the wrong side of the Garden of Eden for that. Rather, this issue is which is the more trustworthy system?

In the view of one of the most profound economists to have ever graced our third rock from the sun, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” (Give up on authorship? It’s Thomas Sowell.) Well, who pays more, apart from the victims of course, for building collapses: the private companies who get sued and suffer bankruptcy from such events, or government bureaucrats and politicians? If you said the former, go to the head of the class.

For another, the government is intimately involved in each jot and tittle of every high rise, factory, condominium, out-house, amusement park, shopping center, residential unit, dog-house (ok, ok, I’m reaching on this one), etc., in the country. Anyone ever hear of building permits? Who is the permitter and who is the permittee here? You want to add a room to your house? Put in a new porch? Re-do your kitchen? In this land of the free and home of the brave you must first file papers, and can only go ahead with the go-ahead of the government.

So let us hear no more about how free enterprise is responsible for these tragedies. If anything, the very opposite is the case. Buildings tumble much in the poor nations of the world, and capitalism is the best antidote to poverty. “Wealthier is healthier” is true not only when it comes to physical wellbeing but also insofar as safe buildings are concerned.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Walter Block
Walter Block
Walter E. Block is the chair in economics at Loyola University in New Orleans. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Mises Institute and the Hoover Institute.