Political Risk Assessments

“Safety is nev­er allowed to trump all oth­er con­cerns”, says Juli­an Bag­gini, and without say­ing as much gov­ern­ments must con­sist­ently put a price on lives and determ­ine how much risk to expose the pub­lic to.

In an art­icle for the BBC, Bag­gini takes a com­pre­hens­ive look at how gov­ern­ments make risk assess­ments and in the pro­cess dis­cusses a top­ic of con­stant intrigue for me: how much a human life is val­ued by dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments and their depart­ments.

The eth­ics of risk is not as straight­for­ward as the rhet­or­ic of “para­mount import­ance” sug­gests. People talk of the “pre­cau­tion­ary prin­ciple” or “erring on the side of cau­tion” but gov­ern­ments are always trad­ing safety for con­veni­ence or oth­er gains. […]

Gov­ern­ments have to choose on our behalf which risks we should be exposed to.

That poses a dif­fi­cult eth­ic­al dilemma: should gov­ern­ment decisions about risk reflect the often irra­tion­al foibles of the popu­lace or the ration­al cal­cu­la­tions of sober risk assess­ment? Should our politi­cians opt for informed pater­nal­ism or respect for irra­tion­al pref­er­ences? […]

In prac­tice, gov­ern­ments do not make fully ration­al risk assess­ments. Their cal­cu­la­tions are based partly on cost-bene­fit ana­lyses, and partly on what the pub­lic will tol­er­ate.

via Schnei­er on Secur­ity