Death and the Precautionary Principle

I haven’t typically posted more than once in a day since starting Ignore This (more out of inertia than policy), but this article by Mercatus’ Adam Thierer was too good not to share. Here’s a sliver:

James Broughel and W. Kip Viscusi found that “regulations costing more than $99.3 million per life saved can be expected to increase mortality risk. A cost-per-life-saved cutoff of approximately $100 million is a threshold cost-effectiveness level beyond which life-saving regulations will be counterproductive—where rules are likely to cause more expected fatalities than they prevent.” In other words, at some point regulation can become so costly that it actually does more harm than good.

I had a professor who put it this way: many, many people die each year in automobile accidents. If we were to pass a regulation that completely banned the use of any and all automobiles, we could, for the sake of argument, bring that number down to zero. Is that a good idea? If not, we’ve already decided that some people are going to die in automobile accidents. The calculus then becomes how many deaths we are willing to tolerate before the cost in lives exceeds the benefit we receive from automobiles.