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CatastropheRisk and Response$
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Richard A. Posner

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780195178135

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195178135.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 26 October 2021

How to reduce the catastrophic risks

How to reduce the catastrophic risks

4 (p.199) How to reduce the catastrophic risks

Richard A. Posner

Oxford University Press

I have said that the risk of catastrophe is growing because science and technology are advancing at breakneck speed. Oddly, this is a source of modest comfort. We do not know what the cumulative risk of disaster is today, but we know that it will be greater several decades from now, so there is time to prepare measures against the truly terrifying dangers that loom ahead. But we must begin. And the formulation and implementation of the necessary measures cannot be left to scientists, as we know. The role of law and the social sciences is crucial. The law, however, is making little contribution to the control of catastrophic risks. Likewise the social sciences, with the partial exception of economics, which has produced a significant scholarly literature on global warming. The legal profession may even be increasing the probability of catastrophe by exaggerating the cost to civil liberties of vigorous responses to threats of terrorism. Improvement in the response to catastrophic risks may require both institutional reforms and changes in specific policies, procedures, and doctrines. The legal system cannot deal effectively with scientifically and technologically difficult questions unless lawyers and judges—not all, but more than at present—are comfortable with such questions. Comfortable not in the sense of knowing the answers to difficult scientific questions or being able to engage in scientific reasoning, but in the sense in which most antitrust lawyers today, few of whom are also economists, are comfortable in dealing with the economic issues that arise in antitrust cases. They know some economics, they work with economists, they understand that economics drives many outcomes of antitrust litigation, and as a result they can administer—not perfectly but satisfactorily— an economically sophisticated system of antitrust law. Economics, however, although at least quasi-scientific in method and outlook, and increasingly mathematized, is easier for lawyers and judges to get comfortable with than the natural sciences are. Because it plays an important role in many fields of law, economics is taught in law schools, whether in special courses on economic analysis of law or more commonly as a component of substantive law courses, such as torts, antitrust, securities regulation, environmental law, and bankruptcy.

Keywords:   Anthrax, Biotech industry, Chlorofluorocarbons, Environmentalism, Fourth Amendment, International Criminal Court, Kyoto Protocol, Legal regulation, Manhattan Project

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