Precautionary Regulation in Europe and the United States: A Quantitative Comparison

14 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2006

See all articles by James K. Hammitt

James K. Hammitt

Harvard University

Jonathan B. Wiener

Duke University

Brendon Swedlow

Northern Illinois University - Political Science

Denise Kall

Duke University

Zheng Zhou

Independent

Abstract

Much attention has been addressed to the question of whether Europe or the United States adopts a more precautionary stance to the regulation of potential environmental, health, and safety risks. Some commentators suggest that Europe is more risk-averse and precautionary, whereas the United States is seen as more risk-taking and optimistic about the prospects for new technology. Others suggest that the United States is more precautionary because its regulatory process is more legalistic and adversarial, while Europe is more lax and corporatist in its regulations. The flip-flop hypothesis claims that the United States was more precautionary than Europe in the 1970s and early 1980s, and that Europe has become more precautionary since then. We examine the levels and trends in regulation of environmental, health, and safety risks since 1970. Unlike previous research, which has studied only a small set of prominent cases selected nonrandomly, we develop a comprehensive list of almost 3,000 risks and code the relative stringency of regulation in Europe and the United States for each of 100 risks randomly selected from that list for each year from 1970 through 2004. Our results suggest that: (a) averaging over risks, there is no significant difference in relative precaution over the period, (b) weakly consistent with the flip-flop hypothesis, there is some evidence of a modest shift toward greater relative precaution of European regulation since about 1990, although (c) there is a diversity of trends across risks, of which the most common is no change in relative precaution (including cases where Europe and the United States are equally precautionary and where Europe or the United States has been consistently more precautionary). The overall finding is of a mixed and diverse pattern of relative transatlantic precaution over the period.

Suggested Citation

Hammitt, James K. and Wiener, Jonathan Baert and Swedlow, Brendon and Kall, Denise and Zhou, Zheng, Precautionary Regulation in Europe and the United States: A Quantitative Comparison. Risk Analysis, Vol. 25, No. 5, pp. 1215-1228, October 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=943147 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2005.00662.x

James K. Hammitt (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

718 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States
617-432-4343 (Phone)
617-432-0190 (Fax)

Jonathan Baert Wiener

Duke University ( email )

Box 90360
Durham, NC 27708
United States
919-613-7054 (Phone)
919-613-7231 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.duke.edu/fac/wiener/

Brendon Swedlow

Northern Illinois University - Political Science ( email )

DeKalb, IL 60115
United States
(815)753.7061 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://polisci.niu.edu/faculty/cv/swedlow.html

Denise Kall

Duke University

100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

Zheng Zhou

Independent

No Address Available

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