Dealing with risk

Glenn Reynolds admits that some environmental problems justify regulation. Glad to hear it. Now comes the problem of actually designing a system to make the relevant decisions.

It turns out that if you insult Glenn Reynolds enough, you can shock him into joining consensus reality for a little while. Good to know that.

So Glenn and I agree that:

* There’s some evidence that chemicals in the environment are de-masculinizing males of many species, including H. sapiens.

* If it’s true, something ought to be done about it.

But of course that’s just where the problem starts. Now we have to answer some questions:

* Whose job should it be to figure out whether a chemical is doing enough harm to be worth taxing or regulating?

* Should the testing be done before, or after, the planet is swimming in the stuff?

* What standards of evidence ought to apply?

* While we remain unsure, should the default option be (as it currently is) that the manufacturers get to keep imposing risks on the rest of us, and hiring lawyers, lobbyists and tame scientists to run the clock and obfuscate the facts?

* If it turns out that the stuff caused damage, should the manufacturers be liable to those damaged? That is, should they pollute at their own risk?

* Where the problem is worldwide, what transnational institutions ought to deal with it?

Oddly enough, it turns out that none of these questions can be answered by sneering at environmentalists and civil servants, by denouncing greedy plaintiffs’ lawyers and supporting “tort reform,” by railing at the U.N., or by celebrating capital strikes (on the “Atlas Shrugged” principle) to shut down the economy whenever a Democrat gets elected.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: