Monday, February 09, 2009

Apply the precautionary principle to the precautionary principle

Every year I have one of my classes engage in a discussion around the premise of applying the precautionary principle to the precautionary principle: does its use and invocation do more harm than good? Can any benefits from the use of the precautionary principle be demonstrated?

To assist you in this contemplation, here are two excellent posts from Samizdata on the topic, first
this and then this.

Not to pre-empt your thinking, but here is one very rational conclusion:
  • The people advocating the precautionary principle adopt it because it is a neat encapsualtion of the preconception that all change is danger, or because it is a procedural pretext for change to be subject to approval so that it not be permitted to disrupt social order. That is how it is a principle so completely incapable of application. It is not intended as an axiom of rational construction for policy but to legitimate an approach.

The primacy of the precautionary principle as the bedrock to ideological environmentalism is inherent in its dogma and in the infiltration of austerity chic within the present dialogue on all things economic:
  • Although the green champions of poverty unwittingly exposed the black heart of environmentalist thinking, they also helped to popularise a malign framework through which the recession is now being discussed.
  • Of course, anti-consumerism and anti-mass sentiment have been around for a long time. But it is one thing to sound off about the ugliness of the high street and the shopping mall in broadsheet newspapers, and another thing actually to advocate poverty as a solution to the apparent problem of runaway climate change.
  • Increasingly, even outside of the world of saloon-bar class prejudice, the idea that poverty has certain 'benefits' is increasingly seen as commonsensical.
Choice comes with responsibilities and, hopefully, accountability. Poverty is usually accompanied by a lack of choices.

It occurs to me, that we who are blessed with choice should not suborn our responsibility and in a paean of
political correctness and fear, use the precautionary principle as an anvil to craft the framework of self-destruction. We must work to find ways to make wealth sustainable for more people in more places.

Wealth has to be created. Poverty is not created: it is the default condition of society in the absence of sustainable wealth creation.

Does the precautionary principle help or hinder wealth creation?