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Consumers as workers: The problems of complacent theory

Verbraucher als Arbeitnehmer: Probleme leichtfertiger Theoriebildung

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Citizens become consumers when working with products as well as when buying them. Many products to which worker-consumers are exposed are dangerous. Our analysis of the American asbestos experience demonstrates that the process thought to balance workplace risks and benefits, the market, fails to deter latent injurers in the way neo-classical economics predicts. Tort signals to the market are weak, late, and frequently distorted or ignored.


Bürger werden zu Verbrauchern im Sinne von Benutzern, wenn sie mit gefährlichen Produkten umgehen, sei es bei der Arbeit oder beim Konsum. Die Gefahren eines solchen Umgangs sind bei Asbest deutlich geworden. Die Analyse der amerikanischen Erfahrungen mit den Produkthaftungsverfahren gegen Asbest-Hersteller und Asbest-Verwender stimmt skeptisch gegenüber grundsätzlichen Annahmen der ökonomischen Analyse des Rechts. Die Behauptung, daß der Markt und entsprechende Haftungsregeln für einen gerechten und effizienten Ausgleich von Gefahren und Vorteilen am Arbeitsplatz sorgt, läßt sich weder theoretisch noch empirisch halten: Das Abschreckungspotential gegenüber potentiellen Gefährdungen ist zu gering. Die von Haftungsrisiken ausgehenden Signale für den Markt sind schwach, spät und häufig verzerrt oder unbeachtet.

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Additional information

William L. F. Felstiner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University and Director, American Bar Foundation, 750 North Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611, USA. Tom Durkin is a Research Associate and Peter Siegelman a Research Fellow at the American Bar Foundation.

The authors acknowledge thoughtful comments on earlier drafts by Ian Ayres, Mary Coyne, John Braithwaite, Robert Dingwall, John Donohue, Wendy Espeland, Mark Grady, and James Short.

A more extensive version of this paper is to be published in the U.S. in Law and Policy, Vol. 11.

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Felstiner, W.L.F., Durkin, T. & Siegelman, P. Consumers as workers: The problems of complacent theory. J Consum Policy 12, 381–396 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00412143

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  • Economic Policy
  • Asbestos
  • Tort Signal
  • Latent Injurer
  • Workplace Risk