Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stuff Happens

I actually found this as a link within a link at MR.

The original posting was about the disaster in Japan. But the author noted  a similirity to the Deep Horizon Oil spill.  The problem is that the government only addresses the low hanging fruit of regulation.  They need to worry more about the outliers - Because Stuff Happens.

The lesson of the BP fiasco is that we don’t need more regulation of off-shore drilling, but we do need more regulation of electrical power and biotech.  More specifically, we need the government to start strategizing about what to do if there is a massive solar flare that wipes out the power grid east of the Mississippi for months on end.  Or what happens if Craig Venter’s evil twin develops a deadly virus that spreads like the common cold.  If we are to have more regulations, I’d rather we have our regulators think about the time bombs that everyone is ignoring, rather than problems that the oil companies are probably already hard at work addressing.
And the lead up from his original post.
I almost threw a shoe at the TV when I heard a newsman say the nuclear power plants were built to withstand earthquakes, but that “no one could have predicted anything this severe.”  Really?  I think Chileans, Russians, Indonesians and Alaskans would have had no trouble predicting 9.0 or higher earthquakes–which are not particularly rare, at least not for a power plant built to last for many decades and located in one of the hottest parts of the “ring of fire.”  These “black swans” (which might as well be named the official bird of the 21st century) are coming more and more frequently.  The reaction of authorities makes me more likely to believe those people who warn about the possible effect of solar flares knocking out our electrical grid, or genetically-engineered flu viruses causing pandemics.
[BTW, I think my post "Stuff Happens" holds up pretty well.]
So the author comes up with what is a suprisingly unusual concept.  He does not say that we should personally all prepare for these various unusual and individually unlikely event.  We shoud tell our governments to stop farting around with regulating all these bush league level problems and start worrying about the hidden time bombs that may really do us in. 

Given the size of the U.S. Federal Budget, and the size of budgets of the other major economic players out there, it is not much of a stretch to say that spending against outlier disasters would multiply enormously with only a miniscule change in the focus.

Because as the author says:  "Stuff Happens."

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