Sinnovation: Risk reduction in vice

  • In a complex world, there will be times when our actions have consequences that we could not have foreseen, however good our intentions were. This complexity is one of the major challenges in public policy: it is what divides people with similar goals, and what demands rigorous analysis of public policy.
  • Most people fall somewhere in between paternalism and libertarianism. They regret the harms that alcohol and tobacco cause to heavy users, but also believe that those users should have the right to take those if they are aware of the harms and aren’t hurting other people. For these people, though they are not libertarians, liberal harm reduction is the key – not rigid prohibitionism.
  • For the authors of the papers in this book, government bans on harmful behaviour do not automatically reduce harm. Indeed, because of the complexity of society and the difficulty of making good public policy, these bans (or other restrictions) may have the opposite effect, and increase harm to the public.
  • By stifling innovation, regulation may freeze products in a state that is far less safe than free-wheeling capitalism would otherwise provide. Given that most smokers or drinkers would prefer not to die young or suffer from chronic illnesses, there is a clear (and perhaps very strong) profit incentive for the firm that can replicate the experience of smoking a cigarette without producing the harm that cigarettes do.
  • A ‘permissionless innovation’ approach may be the best way forward. In this framework, firms are free to innovate and markets anything they like to consumers, with the proviso that untested products must be explicitly marketed as such, with the firm forced to pay the price if and when things go wrong. A regulatory approach on this basis would create a pathway for new reduced-risk products that were, if not 100% safe (such a thing is impossible), a lot safer than the things they were replacing

Read the paper in full here.