“Safety is never allowed to trump all other concerns”, says Julian Baggini, and without saying as much governments must consistently put a price on lives and determine how much risk to expose the public to.
In an article for the BBC, Baggini takes a comprehensive look at how governments make risk assessments and in the process discusses a topic of constant intrigue for me: how much a human life is valued by different governments and their departments.
The ethics of risk is not as straightforward as the rhetoric of “paramount importance” suggests. People talk of the “precautionary principle” or “erring on the side of caution” but governments are always trading safety for convenience or other gains. […]
Governments have to choose on our behalf which risks we should be exposed to.
That poses a difficult ethical dilemma: should government decisions about risk reflect the often irrational foibles of the populace or the rational calculations of sober risk assessment? Should our politicians opt for informed paternalism or respect for irrational preferences? […]
In practice, governments do not make fully rational risk assessments. Their calculations are based partly on cost-benefit analyses, and partly on what the public will tolerate.