The Suppression of Risk?

Remembering that the willingness to bear risk is in no small part a consequence of individualism, it necessarily follows that in its multifarious “risk-reducing” activities, which are almost invariably unsuccessful, the State attempts to enforce some conformity upon the individual. This is also almost invariably doubly exploitative: not only is the individual oppressed, but he is indoctrinated into believing that it’s for “his own good.” For instance, the State claims to be acting for our own good by stealing our money and investing it for “social security,” which in practice is a criminal Ponzi scheme disguised with uniforms. By these criminal means, the State grants no further benefit to the individual, steals much-needed money to distort the stock market, and puts the retirement of lower-wage workers in jeopardy.

The State is very much like that paragon of incompetence, AOL. They are both very expensive, both offer mediocre “service” for which the end user does not need them at all (AOL’s bloated network, the State’s monopoly on the markets), but they both offer a cookie-cutter, ostensibly reassuring experience (AOL by wanton and irresponsible censorship, the State, apponted by law and enforced at the point of its guns). Both are only in a favourable position in their respective areas (AOL in internet providers, the State in providers of force) because of their self-promotion (AOL with blanket marketing, the State with mediatic and educational indoctrination, as well as market takeovers and control).

The attempt to suppress risk has two main consequences on risk.

1. High-risk behaviour is pushed towards drastically less safe alternatives, causing death and suffering.

Posit that the State tries to regulate away products that are used in high-risk behaviour. This does not eliminate the existence of high-risk behaviour. Due to this, people with high-risk behaviour (either due to personality or circumstances) will turn either to even riskier products, or (if none are available) to different products altogether, with attendant risks.

The textbook example of this is the Drug War. While obviously reducing risk is not its prime objective, the Drug War cuts off an avenue of high-risk behaviour, taking certain drugs. People whose personality is predisposed to taking these drugs- predisposed towards high-risk behaviour (altough many illegal drugs are about as risky as taking a ride on a roller-coaster)- are pushed towards much riskier behaviour- buying their drugs from the black market, with the attendant lack of safety, and risking getting arrested and having their lives ruined by the State for breaking “the law.” This sort of dynamic is also present in religious prohibitions, such as those against homosexuality or abortion.

Another obvious example is the FDA. The FDA, ostensibly for our own good, delays, crowds out (due to the enormous cost of testing they impose on small pharmaceutical businesses) or simply outlaws medications which carry greater risk by virtue of not having been tested. Obviously, illegal medications, unlike illegal drugs like marijuana or cocaine, cannot be produced on the black market, due to the gigantic barriers to entry. Therefore the higher bracket of risk becomes outright quackery: acupuncture, therapeutic touch, homeopathy, chiropratic, nonsense of this nature. Things that are sure to not cure you at all, and thus entail your death. Due to circumstances (such as a life-threatening disease or a life-long affliction), some people will be pushed towards high-risk behaviour but, unlike a situation where they could try untested drugs and have a chance of survival, they will surely die. Furthermore, thousands of people every year die because the FDA refuses to release life-saving medications. In this case, everyone is in jeopardy from the State’s aggression, not just individuals with high-risk behaviour, because medications are a vital product.

Eliminating a certain risk bracket only pushes the people within that bracket to a lower or higher bracket. The logic of this is inescapable.

2. When high-risk behaviour is reduced, confidence is boosted, which turns lower brackets of risk into higher brackets of risk.

Take a simple situation where we have one type of low-risk behaviour and one type of high-risk behaviour, co-existing in the same context. Now we legislate away the latter. The formerly prudent people who acted on low-risk assumptions now believe that the factor of risk has been reduced, and thus change their assumptions, consciously or unconsciously. Their previously low-risk behaviour will now become more risky.

We see this most clearly in the cases of mandatory seatbelts, alcohol limits, and bicyclist helmets. In all cases, it was thought that passing laws against high-risk behaviour would result in more safety. In all cases, this was proven wrong, and scientific studies have found that risk was now as high or higher than it was in the past, due to the slide of the biggest low-risk bracket towards higher risk.*

The same reasoning applies to people who are lulled into a false sense of security by the poor consumer protection offered by the State. Instead of keeping a critical eye towards what they see, they believe all products must be safe because “they gotta be certified to be on television/be sold/etc.” This is magical thinking at best.

Risk is a natural part of life. Indeed, taking risks is essential to progress. A policy of low-risk behaviour can only lead to mindless conformity, which of course is exactly what collectivists desire. Vertical collectivists wish to eliminate social risk-taking that goes against the hierarchical structures, which is to say, the risk of going against the grain. Horizontal collectivists wish to eliminate personal risk-taking and use the rhetoric of safety and security. But if they had their way, we would have no more scientific, technological or cultural progress: stagnation would ensue, and with it the end of civilization as we know it.

Nowhere is this clearer than on the markets. Entrepreneurship is risky, but it drives innovation. By trying to suppress the risk (such as layoffs), statists are trying to destroy the market’s natural process of progressive improvement. Yes, layoffs lead to insecurity, but between partial insecurity or stagnation the preferable answer is fairly clear.

Risk-allocation is as necessary in a society as resource-allocation. The State, being a monopoly and unaccountable to a customer base, can no more effect proper risk-allocation as it can effect proper resource-allocation. Only the market system, and Market Anarchy, can properly allocate risk within a society. Until then, all we will get is death and suffering.

* On seatbelts, see Lancet, 11 January 1986, p75 and Durbin-Harvey report, reported in Davis, Death on the Streets: Cars and the mythology of road safety; on alcohol limits, see “Lower DUI Threshold More Dangerous?,” Washington Times, 30 Oct. 2005; on bicyclist helmets, see New Zealand bicycle helmet law-do the costs outweigh the benefits? Taylor M, Scuffham P. 2002. Injury Prevention: 2002;8:317-320 and “Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender,” Walker I. 2006.

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