When Government Cries Wolf
By David Henderson
Henderson’s Law of Warnings: Trivial Warnings Drown Out Serious Warnings
If the government were more judicious with its warnings and tried to focus on the high-probability dangers–and this is what governments do in many other countries–lives would be saved. Human life is simply too valuable to endanger it by incessantly warning people about small risks.
This is from my article, “When Government Cries Wolf,” published at the Hoover Institution’s “Defining Ideas” web site.
Regular readers of my posts will recognize some of the arguments because I first made them, in shortened form and mainly about Proposition 65, here.
What had gone wrong? We had mistakenly dismissed the government’s warning. But why had we done so? Because the government so often cries wolf. The government warns us about many risks, large and small, and rarely gives any idea of the size of those risks. We have a kind of “warning pollution.” In economics, there’s something known as Gresham’s Law, which says, “Bad currency drives out good currency.” With respect to warnings, there’s a similar law, and since I’m identifying it, I’ll name it Henderson’s Law of Warnings: “Trivial warnings drown out serious warnings.”
HT to Paul Crowley for the term “warning pollution.”