Recent controversies over the resettlement of refugees from the Middle East (especially Syria), both in Europe and the United States, have been dominated by emotionally charged rhetoric. Taking a step way from that may be helpful for objectively illuminating both the problem and developing workable policy alternatives.
Category Archives: Precautionary Principle
What Happened to the Precautionary Principle?
Federal officials have abandoned it in the case of Ebola
The Precautionary Principle states that in the absence of scientific certainty, risk managers should err on the side of safety. The Precautionary Principle is routinely practiced by federal agencies when they are not otherwise statutorily constrained, such as by a requirement to balance benefits and costs. Indeed, it is rare when Congress has delegated the choice of risk management framework to an Executive branch agency and that agency has chosen any framework other thanks some variant of the Precautionary Principle.
A rare event is happening before our eyes. In the case of Ebola Virus Disease, federal risk managers are not relying on the Precautionary Principle. Rarer still, they are criticizing governors for relying on it.
On August 20, 2012, President Barack Obama announced a “red line” that would cause the US to intervene in the Syrian civil war: the use of chemical or biological weapons.
We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people. We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.
He reiterated this position on December 3, 2012:
The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.
This position is an example of the Precautionary Principle, and perhaps ironically, it is similar to the one that motivated President George W. Bush to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
[i]n order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), which includes representatives from the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts, and other stakeholders.
This delay is being reported by USA Today, NBC News, The Week, Bloomberg, and others as evidence that TSA is caving under pressure from flight attendants and some Members of Congress including Reps. Jackson Lee and Grimm (who describe the items that would be removed from the Prohibited Items List as “potentially dangerous”) and Rep. Hahn (who calls the TSA action “shockingly irresponsible and reckless”).
The Precautionary Principle is the widely held notion that uncertainty about risk ought not be used as a barrier to making decisions to reduce or avoid it. Extended warranties for consumer products provide a real-world example how the Precautionary Principle can be found in otherwise very ordinary market transactions. A recent article in the Washington Post illuminates why.