Tuesday, April 9, 2013

EE and the Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle is a regulatory doctrine that assumes new products to be harmful (and therefore unfit for sale to the public) until proven otherwise. The Precautionary Principle noses its head above water fairly frequently. The EU invokes it when scorning GMO crops, the FDA relies on a very strict interpretation (requiring both safety and efficacy before new drugs can be sold), and any gated industry stamps licensing requirements for new entrants with the de jure seal of the PP, even when the de facto motivation for licensing is to artificially restrict the supply of labor to raise its price.

What does EE have to say about PP? Good question. BATNA disparity is always interesting in the case of de novo products. Drugs are a good example. Suppose I've got late-stage pancreatic cancer (knock on wood) and unbeknownst to me, Merck recently developed a drug that stands a pretty good chance of putting the cancer into remission, but it's being held up in trials by the FDA. Yeah, sure my BATNA is desperate in an absolute sense, but should this new product really be included in my expectations calculus? Is it consonant with decent moral intuitions that I should be able to expect the right to make a potentially life-saving transaction, even if there is a non-negligible probability of some ex post regret?

Or is it possible that the FDA's efficacy requirement is a bulwark against the peddling of snake oil? People in desperate situations have inelastic demand curves for life-saving products (think of the desert taco truck), so our regulatory authority invokes the PP to ensure that hapless customers with lousy or asymmetric information aren't fleeced by the avarice of corporate elites? Is the sale of false hope sufficiently noxious that from behind the veil of ignorance we crucify mankind on a cross of Type II errors?

Ultimately, the Precautionary Principle forces constituents to swallow their BATNA until new products emerge from quarantine. Is this meta-euvoluntary? What effect does this policy have on innovation? On bourgeois dignity? On trust and prudence? Under what conditions is the PP sensible? When should it avoided?

1 comment:

  1. Seems to me the people with the most to lose from purchasing snake oil would be the most vigilant against it.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?