The Terrible 'Ifs'
Benjamin H. Friedman
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Regulation, Vol. 30, No. 4, Winter 2007-2008
The United States employs a version of the precautionary principle when it confronts threats to national security. We spend vast amounts on defenses against threats unlikely to affect Americans. Experts, defense officials, and politicians justify those expenditures by saying they are necessary to protect the public from worst case dangers. The principle fails to acknowledge that decisions about risk, whether they regulate health hazards or arm against a state, cannot deal with one risk alone. Because resources are always limited, efforts to head off a particular danger take resources away from other government programs and from private investment that also reduce risk.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 9
Keywords: defense spending, foreign threats, precautionary principle, risk preferences, risk perception, security, policy, terrorism
JEL Classification: D81, H56Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 13, 2008
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