Risk saves lives

Just another in my ongoing rants about something I feel strongly about.  We need to accept a lot more risk in our lives so we can stop spending gazillions foolishly, and start allocating the spending to things that will actually do a lot of good and save a lot of lives here and elsewhere:

 Re: Lead in toys imported from China:

The whole anti china toy thing seems to me to be largely an overreaction and/or  an anti-China political scam.   Our standards are far, far too high here in the USA.    I’d like to see how you can make a case that standards that add billions in costs and save at most a handful of people are appropriate when we could reallocate that risk in such a way that the costs would save thousands of *the very same* people,let alone *millions* in developing world.    Did anybody bother to compare the (trivial) lead and toxics risks from those China toys with risks from wearing street shoes in the home (also probably trivial but not a costly approach to the problem.  And then compare those with the risks most families take by not containing the almost ubiquitous leaded paint on old American homes and by using leaded fuels?   THAT’s a lead risk folks, and it’s big enough to worry about.    Am I saying we should allow leaded toys in from China?   No, but we should not worry so much about these small risks and we should reduce the regulations such that the risks match up logically.    Mad Cow disease posed almost *zero* health risks given the existing inspection regimens, yet many called for *higher* standars to fight that almost immeasurably small risk of human problems from mad cow.  (Pop quiz – how many US people have died from the human complications that come from mad cow disease?)  Answer:  1 or less.   In fact there were only 3 cases of this in US cows! 

Would I vote to put myself and others at slightly greater risk – trivial greater risk – so hundreds of others could collectively live thousands more years?   Of course, it is a moral imperative to work for this.  

Silly people say it’s not a tradeoff.   They suggest we always need to fight for the highest safety standard, and the costs be damned.    That appeals to emotion but is downright stupid in terms of economics.  You *must* allocate resources because they are limited.   You can let whimsy guide you, or emotion, or evil, or logic, but you cannot escape the allocation of resources.   All I’m saying is, to rework and paraphrase John Lennon:

“Let’s give Peace REASON and ROI calculations a chance” 

 We desparately need to better match risk and cost, but political spending and emotion forces us to, for example, recall perfectly good beef and spinach when statistics suggest these were of sufficient quality.    The spinach thing probably led to a few more deaths from lowering dietary standards by stopping eating spinach than the 1? death from the bad spinach.

4 thoughts on “Risk saves lives

  1. Risk. Awareness of risk. Acceptance of risk.

    Life is not a cocoon. Complacency is not safety. Being constantly sheltered from risk does not make one safe.
    We need only look at various incidents: No black students were wounded at Kent State, black students were smart enough to avoid trusting armed authority figures! When nutcases open fire in shopping malls, its usually the safe suburbanites that are slow to hit the floor and remain standing up looking around for where the firecrackers are.

    Often our safety systems are designed to fail with an attention getting ‘kachunk’. The noise shakes the complacency out of the pilot whose attention has wandered.
    That is why some airlines force the pilot to do pencil and paper navigation exercises: it keeps him focused on the situation and not lulled into a risk-free attitude.

    When people face risks they value freedom. And they make better decisions about risks when they have to face rather than avoid risks. Settlers in America knew what rigid social classes and poverty in Europe meant. The settlers were willing to take great risks to settle where good soil was available. Hardships on the trek west? Ofcourse. Dangers were constant.

    Some of these issues arose during the James Kim search discussions. Maps, signage, privacy of credit card and cell phone records, innkeeper’s liabilities and responsibilities, motorist services, etc.

    Many people have ‘fears’ of various risk situations but often the fears and risk estimates are out of proportion to reality. Those who want utter safety are fools who simply do not value freedom or a sense of adventure.

    We go out to the wilderness and yes: water might have pathogens, a fresh picked edible plant may have pathogens. Our carots in super markets are anticepticly clean, but we did not evolve eating dirt-free carrots.

    For a long time there have been indications, particularly in asthma and autism distribution patterns, that clean environments of well-to-do homes can be dangerous to children whose immune systems are not properly primed by being exposed to pathogens. Life is risky. Seeking avoidance of all risk is foolish (and foolishly expensive).

  2. One argument that should be borne in mind is that there is always the extreme case. Such as the very few people who have extremely costly long-term sequelae from food poisoning. A few dollars more in restaurant inspection can pay off for them.

    After some headline making incident of a metal tool left inside a patient someone tried to get all patients xrayed upon leaving the Operating Room. Aside from the cost of the equipment, its inspection, the space for the equipment and the filing charges for the xrays, one bean-counter calculated the error rate at reading such xrays particularly when the vast majority of the xrays would be fine, and the expenditures were astronomically unsound. Headlines make for bad solutions.

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