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Strangled by Carbon Monoxide and Regulations

More red-tape rules that cost more than they're worth.

By Will Offensicht  |  December 7, 2012

On November 16, 2012, USA Today announced yet another massive and urgent threat to public health.  "Hotel guests face carbon monoxide risk" pointed out that 8 hotel guests had died of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning and 170 had been treated for fumes since 2010.

That works out to about 3 deaths and 55 hospital treatments per year.  Shock!  Horror!  Three whole deaths!  Something Must Be Done!

Advocacy groups argue that state and local fire codes should require CO detectors in all hotel rooms.  These detectors cost about $100 each.  Unlike smoke detectors which last as long as their batteries are replaced, CO detectors have to be replaced every 5 years because the sensor deteriorates.

Smoke detectors cost much less to buy, and maintenance costs are about $2 for new batteries every couple of years.  That works out to about $3 per room per year.

CO detectors, in contrast, cost $20 per year plus installation because they have to be replaced, you can't just change batteries.  They'll probably turn out to contain hazardous materials, too, which will increase disposal costs.  Ignoring installation and disposal costs, CO alarms will cost $20 per room per year just to buy a new one every 5 years.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association reports that there are 4.9 million guest rooms in 51,214 hotels and models with 15 rooms or more.  At $20 per room per year, CO detection in hotel rooms would cost at least $98 million per year.  The cost per life saved would be more than $30 million, which is even more than the cost per life saved by air bags in cars.

Bringing in an additional $98 million per year would be a benefit for the alarm industry, but the $98 million would come out of the pockets of people who rent hotel rooms.  It wouldn't bother our ruling elites who stay in high-priced hotels at taxpayer expense, but it would hurt those of us who must scrimp on our accommodations.  No matter whom they benefit, regulations always cost We The People a lot of money.

The Dilemma

Unfortunately, we do need some rules; history shows that anarchy doesn't work.  Every society needs laws and rules to govern how people interact.

The goal should be to apply the minimum set of rules which will order society without limiting people's ability to make the economy grow, but the rule-making process is bound up in politics.  Instead of trying to write rules to make the system work, politicians urge the bureaucrats to write rules to support their personal agendas.  Lawyers love running for office so they can pass laws and then charge us big bucks to explain the laws they just passed, for example.

The advocates' problem is that just about all of the sensible regulations have already been passed, but they have to argue about something.  $98 million to save 3 lives per year might be OK if we had infinite money, but we don't.  Although the economy grows over time, it's of fixed size in any given year.  $98 million spent on CO alarms is $98 million not spent on schools, or highway safety, or medical care.  To paraphrase Mr. Romney, if we weren't already spending $98 million per year on CO alarms, would we borrow money from the Chinese to do it?

The USA Today article is another example of the media helping advocates drum up a new concern.  If the alarm industry lobbyists are able to get new laws passed requiring CO detectors in addition to the smoke detectors hotels already have, We the People will be the poorer for it.

Going with the Flow

Mr. Obama has made it very clear that he intends to increase regulations of industries such as electricity generation which he doesn't favor.  It'll be a lot easier to get expensive new laws passed in such a climate.  Get set for higher hotel bills along with higher electric bills!