I know a couple with small children who refuse to travel together on airplanes in order to guard against their kids suddenly becoming orphaned. Yet they routinely hop into the family car, even though the latter is, statistically speaking, a far more dangerous mode of transportation. I’ve always been fascinated by the subject of risk, particularly the amount of risk each of us is willing to take in the course of our daily activities. And, as our government continues its encroachment into what used to be our private affairs, the question increasingly becomes: how much risk are we allowed to take.
As we’re forced to weave our way through the ever-expanding labyrinth of warnings and regulations and outright prohibitions, the common refrain is, “If it saves just one life, it’s worth the effort.” But, of course, that’s not true. There would be no skiing deaths if we would just outlaw skiing; traffic fatalities would drop dramatically if we’d lower maximum speed limits to 15 mph; and mandating parasol use in sunny weather would go a long way toward eliminating skin cancer. And yet, as a society, we’ve decided not to take those steps. (That doesn’t mean the second Obama administration won’t look into these matters or that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg won’t institute a Comprehensive Parasol Initiative.)
When the State jumps in to health matters, the justification is often the nebulous “cost to society,” but that, more often than not, is merely an excuse to use the power of government to do a bit of social engineering. And, of course, the selective use of that power leads to all sorts of contradictions because, after all, good and bad behaviors are, very often, in the eyes of the beholders.
So how much risk are you willing to take? How much risk are you willing to let your kids take? How much risk should each of us be prohibited from taking? The answers—and their inconsistencies or unintended consequences—are fun to think about.