Georges Courteline wrote “We need to tell the truth to intelligent people, but they must lie to fools.”
French MP’s are seeking to deconstitutionalise the precautionary principal through the EU/US Free Trade Agreement. In effect they are suggesting that the populace should be treated as fools; lied to! The precautionary principal was developed so as to avoid the mistakes of the past; learn from past experience, enshrined into the French constitution if you like.
So… is it true that the precautionary principal restricts innovation and growth?
Regulation encourages the development of alternative technologies and approaches, stimulates research into hitherto areas unexplored. An example being health care; Health Care in all Developed Countries is highly regulated but we see many and often improvements in treatments as an exercise of precautionary measures aimed at improved long-term health care.
Another example is the Free Trade Agreement between the EU/US representing 30% of all world trade. Tariffs are already low so the aim of the agreement must be to harmonize regulation so the level of public protection is raised. However, the EU has yet to sound anything like reassuring.
My guess is that there will be no attempted compromises on safety, environmental impact and consumer protection. BUT… there is potential nonetheless for increased waste, loss of bio-diversity and increased use of natural resources. I’m sure the argument will be put (if it comes to an argument) that these are off-set by the increased trade benefits.
Is there an area where the precautionary principal does not work, does not encourage innovation?
I’m thinking of those areas of public heath which can be classified as behavioral. Alcohol, tobacco, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets being the main examples. In part individuals are responsible for themselves, but they are bombarded daily with advertising telling them to eat things, consume things, do things or not do things which are basically unhealthy for them. In this case the precautionary principal stand in the way of development, of innovation. The regulations support unhealthy industries and on this point I only see the EU/US FTA supporting the status quo.
The French were rightly in my view concerned about the EU/US FTA but the Germans railroaded the agreement, after-all they are in charge of Europe, or so it would appear anyway.
The precautionary principal is a good principal and works for the betterment of the populace. The French are often accused of being overly bureaucratic, this may in some cases be true but the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Innovation – encourage it however it is best encouraged. Tell the truth to intelligent people and explain to those who find it difficult to understand.