Edited by David Levi-Faur
Chapter 21: Strategic Issues in Risk Regulation
Giandomenico Majone 21.1 INTRODUCTION: THE INFEASIBILITY OF A NO-RISK APPROACH The issue of risk looms so large in contemporary public discourse and in popular perception that some authors speak of a “risk society,” where problems of risk distribution replace the problems of wealth distribution that characterized industrial society. It is any rate certain that the political significance of risk regulation will keep growing, in parallel with advances in technology, and with the expansion of international trade – as shown in the following pages. It is often alleged that irrationality and bias in risk perception prevent a rational approach to the setting of regulatory priorities. In particular, the tendency to overestimate low-probability events can have substantial impact on government policy. Hence how the government should respond to public (mis)perceptions is a central question for the politics of risk regulation. Some democratic theorists would go as far as suggesting that public policy should always reflect the preferences of the voters. In the case of risk regulation, however, such a position is difficult to defend: if the general public underestimates a certain risk, one presumably would not expect the government to remain idle and let citizens incur risk unknowingly (Viscusi et al. 1996: 656–60). A more reasonable approach to the question of regulatory priorities recognizes that legislators, judges, regulators, and public opinion all have important, but distinct, roles in the process of risk regulation. The early history of risk regulation provides an instructive example of how public opinion can actually be ahead...
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