The Question of When to Act

The collapsed condo building in Florida has been in the headlines for days. Two recent reports come from USA Today and the WSJ.

This is a tragedy that will be associated with many deaths. A steady decay in the concrete structure appears to the be the cause, although there is no professional consensus on the reason for the sudden collapse (see WSJ).

In 2018, an engineering firm recommended repairs in a report. Every 40 years, a building like that needs to be re-certified, and the tower happened to be 40 years old when it collapsed. The recommended repairs had not started.

According to USA Today, a letter circulated in April 2021 (two months before the collapse) warned condo residents that expensive repairs were necessary. Meetings were being held. The condo board was gathering information from engineers and lawyers.

A line from the letter is chilling (see USA Today):

We have discussed, debated, and argued for years now, and will continue to do so for years to come as different items come into play.

What threats are we planning to merely talk about “for years to come”? Talking about the right threats is important. Timing matters, too. Identifying threats is not much good if you don’t also identify how much time you can afford to debate the actions to take.

Being slow has huge costs. Often the costs are unseen. In my Thank You post about the work by MR bloggers to speed up vaccines for Covid, I pointed out that sometimes it’s relatively easy to count the lives saved by speedy action. In many other cases, it is hard to count how many lives are cut short because we are slow.

I borrow from EconLib for this Batiat quote:

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effects; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and the effects that must be foreseen.

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