10° 40' N, 61° 30' W

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

From Taking Environmentalists Seriously, an article by Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren:

. . . the decision-framework employed by environmentalists would look absurd in any other policy context if it were stripped of its emotional baggage. To focus only on the benefits of action rather than on both the costs and benefits of action, as well as inaction, is logically indefensible whether we're talking about our war against terrorism or our war against pollution.

Part of the reason why people are inconsistent in their positions is that they use different heuristics when faced with different problems, even if they are of a similar nature or the stakes are comparable. This is especially true when it comes to policy, when people are perfectly willing to tolerate some risks (say, a 1-in-1 million chance of dying in a terrorist attack) and not others (a 1-in-1-mllion chance of getting cancer from a pesticide-sprayed apple, say.) The outcomes are comparable (death in both cases) but one is treated as being worse, or more serious, than the other. Policymaking would be a lot sounder if more realistic attitudes towards costs, benefits and risks were taken into account.

Note: These two guys are from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think that that is officially against war in Iraq. (Link via Mindles H. Dreck.)