How Much Would You Pay to Make Sure You Never Sawed Off a Finger?

What’s it worth to you to minimize the risk of cutting off a finger?

$300? $600? $1,200? Or perhaps it’s worth nothing, if you think you’re already careful enough?

If you’re a woodworker willing to spend enough money, you can buy a table saw that detects fingers and stops the blade like this:

CreditCredit…Jonathan Katz-Moses

(The hot dog is your finger.)

So, would you pay extra for this feature? What if the government said you had no choice but to pay up? And what if only one company held the patents for the safety mechanism?

Government mandates of new safety technology are classic trade-offs, whether the product is a power tool or a car or a pill. In this case, regulations requiring that table saws be sold with this safety device might mean a few thousand fingers saved per year. But they might also lead to higher costs for consumers.

When the technologies are patented, the trade-offs can become even more clear, like the high prices (and high profits) of drug companies in exchange for the innovation of new drugs. With table saws, it might similarly lead to a period of less competition and more profit for the company that developed the safety mechanism.

Among tools likely to be found in someone’s garage, table saws are the biggest driver of serious woodworking-related injuries: Each year they are responsible for about 30,000 injuries that require emergency department treatment — and nearly 4,300 amputations.

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