The Corner

Precaution

Jonah: The “precautionary principle” drives me batty. In principle (so to speak), I’m all for it. It’s a profoundly small-c conservative concept. It urges humility and restraint in all areas of life, including public policy, where it serves as a useful guard against the unintended consequences that so often accompany Big Plans.

Then there’s its actual application by guys like Thomas Friedman, who deploy it whenever they find it helpful to their political agenda and ignore it when they don’t.

In his NYT column today, Friedman says there’s a greater than 1-percent chance that our planet is in the midst of a human-made global-warming disaster. So he wants to take action, which he likens to buying an insurance policy. But the very same logic could be used against kneecap-and-trade and all of the other draconian schemes that the environmental left has concocted: There’s a greater than 1-percent chance that their hubris will impoverish the world through strangling regulations and accomplish nothing in the face of a phony problem. In this context, the precautionary principle urges us to avoid buying Friedman’s expensive and risky insurance policy.

It takes sound judgment to know when the precautionary principle makes sense and when it doesn’t. Everything else is just rhetoric.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Friedman and his foresight, let’s remember that he once wrote these words in one of his tiresome attacks on missile defense:

If [our enemies] are so crazy and hell-bent on attacking America, why aren’t they doing it now, when there is no missile shield, and all they have to do is drive a truck bomb across the Mexican border or release a bio-weapon in Washington?

That was four months before 9/11. Today, Friedman still thinks we don’t need missile defense, even though our enemies are close to having weapons much more powerful than Mexican truck bombs. Or hijacked airplanes.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

Most Popular

Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

An Election Too Important to Be Left to Voters

The Democrats believe that the 2020 election is too important to be left to the voters. It’s obvious that President Donald Trump withheld defense aid to Ukraine to pressure its president to commit to the investigations that he wanted, an improper use of his power that should rightly be the focus of ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Elections

It’s Not Because She’s a Woman

In early October, Elizabeth Warren hit her stride. Her stock in the Democratic primary had been climbing steadily since midsummer, and as Joe Biden continued to lag, the Massachusetts senator became the first presidential hopeful to overtake him as front-runner in the RealClearPolitics polling average. She’s ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

Clint Eastwood’s Messy, Nuanced Triumph

After a pipe bomb exploded at a concert held to celebrate the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the FBI came to suspect that the security guard who discovered the device might have planted it to gain a reputation as a hero. The knotty story of that security guard, Richard Jewell, does not lend itself ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More
Film & TV

A Feeble Fox News Attack at the Movies

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Oscar-winning talents to rip the lid off the scandal at NBC News, whose bosses still have suffered no repercussions for their part in the Harvey Weinstein matter and other sleazy deeds — but at least Hollywood has finally let us know how they feel about Fox News ... Read More