Two Types of Risk

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Weirich, Paul
conference paper description
When new technologies create risks, government agencies use regulations to control the risks. This paper advances a method of evaluating a democracy’s regulation of risks. It assumes that a regulatory agency should act as the public would act in ideal conditions for negotiation if the public were rational and informed. The method relies on decision theory and game theory to ascertain whether a regulation has the public’s informed support. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulation of exposure to carcinogens in the workplace illustrates the account of regulation. The illustration draws attention to a distinction between physical and information-sensitive risks. Regulations guided by the physical sciences alone may overlook the value of reducing information-sensitive risks. These risks exist objectively, and rational people generally have an aversion to them. An information-sensitive risk and an aversion to it may persist after acquisition of all available relevant information. Democratic regulation justifiably aims to reduce such risks.