Fifteen years after the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a devastating global financial crisis, the banking system is in trouble again. Central bankers and financial regulators each seem to bear some of the blame for the recent tumult, but there is significant disagreement over how much – and what, if anything, can be done to avoid a deeper crisis.
After a massive gas well explosion killed 243 people in southwest China last December, China's State Council and National People's Congress have announced new rules for industrial safety. The authorities' response follows a now-familiar pattern: high-profile pronouncements in the wake of workplace disaster give way to neglect of basic safety standards. But if Western experience is any guide, ad hoc responses to high rates of work accidents won't reduce the risks to Chinese workers. Only the development of basic legal institutions will help make Chinese workplaces safer.
China and other developing Asian economies are experiencing an industrial accident crisis of world-historical proportions. Official sources report 14,675 industrial-accident deaths in China in 2003, but statistics on workplace accidents are notoriously unreliable, and some observers suggest that the number may be closer to 120,000.
China's coalmines are among the most dangerous places to work in the world. Chinese garment factories have repeatedly experienced disasters on a par with the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City a century ago, which killed 146 workers, all young women.
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