Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Few Good Rules

With an election coming and the exuberance of the Tea Party, we're about to hear a lot about how government needs to stop taking so much of our money and doing so much nothing. It will be annoying to hear all this noise in the wake of catastrophic government withdrawal from the financial sector and the work of environmental protection.
Matt Steinglass (a link I got to via Sullivan) makes this point about the current stream of really big problems:

If the lesson of the catastrophes of the noughties is to pay attention to tail-end risk, then we should all be running around building nuclear fallout shelters and working out deflection strategies for massive asteroid strikes. And that’s not going to happen. (Though in the case of climate change, one of Leonhardt’s examples, it is useful: we should be paying more attention to the risk that global temperature rise by 2100 will be near the catastrophic 6-degree-celsius high-end estimate, not the merely awful 2-degree median estimate.) But I don’t think that is the main lesson. The main lesson is simpler and more concrete: government regulations need to be more restrictive, regulators need to be more aggressive, better-paid, and more powerful, and they need to stop people and corporations more often from doing things that may be profitable but pose unacceptable risks to the public. We had this theory for a while that economic self-interest would prove sufficient disincentive to foolish risk-taking. But now the Gulf of Mexico is on fire, so I’m afraid we need to go back to the old-fashioned system with the rules and the monitors carrying sticks. Sorry.

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