What have we learned from a 25-year-old plane crash?
A deadly crash at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1985 led to a number of safety improvements that help contribute to our much-improved quality of living today -- even though the improvements are almost completely hidden from the passengers' view. Things like radar to detect wind shear and new fire-control equipment (like a nozzle that can pierce a plane's fuselage) have been added to airplanes and airports to make passenger flight much safer, even if we as passengers don't see them and probably don't even recognize that they exist. The many accumulated little improvements in things like travel safety don't show up on conventional measures of well-being -- they don't appear on measures of GDP, and we don't feel happier because they exist since we're probably oblivious to many of them anyway -- but they add up regardless. The human condition is improving little by little, all the time. As long as we keep on getting smarter, life will keep on getting better. That "getting smarter" happens in a very literal sense when pilots can be trained in exactly the conditions of specific air emergencies, while they remain in the safety of a simulator. (And we can review their behavior in great detail as well.
When it comes to Chinese-made equipment, let the buyer beware
Chinese manufacturers are known to cut corners in dangerous fashion -- producing weightlifting equipment that could have killed people and defective automotive tires. Chinese-made goods carry at least two major types of risk: The first is that they're often made cheaply because they violate intellectual-property laws and expose their users to unintended liabilities from a legal standpoint. Even when the comparative advantage isn't cheating, it may be from an unsustainable pricing advantage from the Chinese government's heavy subsidization of energy prices. Once the subsidy goes away, so too may the pricing advantage. But the second risk is hidden, though it carries grave consequences: Since much of China's manufacturing today is based upon the copying of other products (hence the intellectual-property violation concerns), it's done with only a partial knowledge of the "how" of a product, and none of the "why". If two schoolchildren turn in the same essay, and one did nothing but copy the other, they may appear to be the same at first glance. But the child who did the copying wouldn't know anything about the process of originating the paper -- doing the research, assembling the data, writing, proofreading, and so on. The copycat only knows what the final product might look like. Lacking the process knowledge, he or she is almost certain to make fundamental errors about why things were done in a particular way. The more sophisticated the eventual product, the more serious the lack of knowledge about why it is built in the way it is.
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