The Public Interest

Richer is safer

Aaron Wildavsky

Summer 1980

THE proverbial man from Mars, observing our safety efforts in the past decade, could not help but conclude that the youth of America were dropping like flies in the streets. Why else would the United States federal government be engaged in a desperate, multi-billion-dollar effort to increase life expectancy? But the Martian historian of earthly safety would note that in the hundred years from 1870 to 1970 every increase in industrialization and wealth, except possibly at the highest levels, was accompanied by a corresponding increase in safety from accident and disease. Thus he would surely wonder: Since personal safety and economic growth advanced together, why is present policy based precisely on severing that link by deliberately decreasing wealth in order to remove risk?

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