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June 08, 2022

An Overabundance of Caution is Excessive

The price is often much higher than the risk avoided.

How many times in the past few years have we heard leaders say that some action was taken or not taken out of “an overabundance of caution”. This usually means that a politician is willing to impose an unknow cost on a large number of people in order to escape the risk that he or she will be blamed for doing nothing or, even worse, be blamed for something which does go wrong. Here are a few examples, glad to have you add to the list.

Out of an overabundance of caution, Germany started closing its nuclear plants after Fukushima.

The cost is overreliance on Russia for energy and an income flow to Putin which enabled and still enables his onslaught on Ukraine. How many lives has that overabundance of caution cost so far? The environmental cost is not only the emissions from war and burning cities, but also greenhouse and noxious gasses from burning coal to keep the lights on. We’re all paying the economic price at the pump - especially Europeans. Winter fuel will be an enormous problem.

Out of an overabundance of caution, the FDA pressured a manufacturer to shut down a huge infant formula plant without evidence that any contaminated product came from the plant. Out of an abundance of caution, the manufacturer complied.

The cost is babies going without formula or drinking ersatz concoctions. The cost is parents desperately driving from one unsupplied store to another.

Out of an overabundance of caution, public schools stayed shut long after the initial “short-term, bend the curve” Covid shutdowns.

The initial shutdown when hospitals were running out of space and supplies was probably a good call, especially given what we didn’t know about the virus at the time. We are still tallying the cost in lost emotional development and education from the extra one and a half years some schools stayed closed.

Out of an overabundance of caution, police didn’t attack the active shooter in Uvalde, Texas for more than 70 minutes.

No comment.

Out of an overabundance of caution, the school board in Burlington, Vermont shut the high school over high air-born PCB readings.

The fault is more with the state which apparently set the threshold so low that it could be exceeded even with local source of PCBs according to an article in 7Days. Hard to blame the Board for using the state figures which are now NOT being used in the screening of other schools for possible PCB contamination. However, Burlington is now facing a more than $200 million cost to build a new high school and tear down the old one. Is it an overabundance of caution which is preventing simply going back into the old school?

Out of an overabundance of caution and fear of offending Putin, we haven’t given Ukraine the weapons it needs to defeat Russia on a timely basis.

It’s understandable that we didn’t ship weapons to Ukraine in the first days of the war when almost everyone believed Russia would overwhelm the country quickly and end up with any weapons shipped in. But now that we’ve seen Ukrainian’s ability and willingness to fight, we ought to be adding to their arsenal as quickly as we can. Our weapon escalation should not come after public dithering. The first Putin should know that Ukraine has longer range artillery, better ship-sinking missiles, or more planes is when these new weapons break the back of planned Russian assaults or drive Russians back. The price of our caution is Ukrainian lives and a greater threat to our own and European freedom.

Caution is often appropriate. An overabundance of caution is excessive and dangerous.

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