The Public Interest

How to reduce risks rationally

Max Singer

Spring 1978

THE modern emphasis on individual happiness and personal rights rather than community values and responsibilities has led to an increased concern with protecting individuals from hazards of various kinds. Public-policy choices have increasingly become dominated by hazard-avoiding considerations: a proposed ban on saccharin, resistance to nuclear power, pressure for better protection for workers, objections to reeombinant-DNA research, etc. Although different technical questions and institutional contexts are involved in such issues, there is some value in trying to get a perspective on what might be called the “hazard business” as a whole. Each issue can be seen as part of a national effort to save lives by reducing or limiting hazards at the same time that competing values limit our lifesaving efforts. An overall perspective can help us make more rational choices in individual eases-and we will have to make many decisions in coming years.

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