09 July 2007

The precautionary principle

My support for the precautionary principle received a rather caustic email response from the CEO of the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (ITSSD), a " US-based nonprofit and nonpartisan legal research and advocacy organization". To my surprise it claimed that I compare "economic/democratic capitalism" with my "preferred French paternalistic socialist model of governance". This was the first time anyone told me that France is a socialist country.

The email can hardly be described as a contribution to scientific debate. It was the type of opinion piece that now tends to replace hard factual information in the newspapers: I was accused to promote "partisan science ideology of socialistic paternalism and utopianism, which is symptomatic of the religious faith-based orthodoxy of precautionary principle advocates".

How can one react to such stuff? I tried to explain that "I teach my students to base every judgement on facts. In my lecture notes I try to show the development of science, civilization and society based on facts of history. I may not have achieved that in every aspect, but I hope that people at least see that I tried." But that did not satisfy the ITSSD, who declared that I do not understand "the legal and economic dimensions surrounding these issues".

I think the real value of the emails from the ITSSD is the demonstration of the hardline ideological character of those who oppose the European initiative to give the precautionary principle more prominence in the administration of industrial products such as new chemicals. I am sure that the "nonpartisan" ITSSD does not speak for the scientists of the USA, but it surely reflects government attitude. If you want to see this kind of ideology in action, see my "Postscriptum" at the end of lecture 35.

Matthias Tomczak


Anonymous said...

Here is some more good information for you:




Matthias Tomczak said...

Well, I don't usually support anonymous comments (see my note at the top right of the blog); but this information is very useful for anyone who wants to get an idea what the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (ITSSD) stands for. I got the impression from the article in the Washington Times and the responses that I may have been wrong in assuming that the ITSSD represents government thinking. Maybe things are not quite as bad, and the USA will come around to see the value of the European approach to the precautionary principle.

I recommend the three web references to anyone who wants to follow this up. Thanks for posting them.

Informed Lawyer said...

Dear Professor Tomczak,

I understand that you are a Czech citizen by birth.

I recently met with the President of your country following his address to the UN on climate change.

Basically, the fact that you never thought of France, or for that matter, any European country today as being 'socialist' betrays your extreme idealism and/or naivety. Anyone to whom I have shown your previous comments seems to agree.

As President Klaus aptly states, the greatest threat to freedom today is environmentalism, better known as 'soft' socialism.

If you represent to your students that these views are extreme, then it would appear that YOU are the very 'ideologue' that you criticize in others.

The precautionary principle as it is being applied by the European Union is not only a disguised trade barrier in fact and in law, but it is also a soft law instrument of top-down philosopher king-style socialism.

Please note that despite the ignorance shown by some members of the US government about the economic and legal significance of the Precautionary Principle, there are many other people who know and believe otherwise. They are the ones who are likely to oppose the Precautionary Principle more than I.

As a member of the Adjunct Faculty of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ USA, where I now teach international trade law and policy, I will enjoy raising these interesting issues with my students. They need to know the world they are facing, and must be equipped to respond to the pendulum swing backwards toward socialist thought.

In this regard, if you have any more philosophical and sociological ideas that you would like to share, I, for one, will be an enthusiastic recipient.

Yours Truly,

Lawrence Kogan

Matthias Tomczak said...

Dear Mr. Kogan,

it is interesting that my post on the precautionary principle raises responses that are not based on facts and careful research but on assumptions and ideology.

To begin with - but only as an aside, since this does not really impinge on the subject of the debate - I am not Czech but German by birth and citizenship. My name is of course of Polish origin. I can remember meeting my great-grandfather once. He was the last person in the family who still spoke Polish and German, so I am third-generation German. I do not take any responsibility for the ideas and opinions of the Czech president.

Going through your response to my blog I place your ideas about "soft socialism", "top-down philosopher king-style socialism" and other people's ignorance or naivety in the category of ideological sermon without relevance to scientific study.

The only statement of fact I can find in your post is your point that the "precautionary principle ... is ... a disguised trade barrier in fact and in law." This is true (although it is debatable whether it is disguised or not). You seem to find that reprehensible and give the impression that you favor a global free market.

But the global market operates on the basis of regulations on which the international community has to agree. The task for politicians is to find the regulations that produce the best outcomes for the people of the world.

In the present context the choice is between a system of global trade with minimal environmental safeguards, that allows untested chemicals to enter the environment with incalculable risks, and a system based on the precautionary principle that requires all players to show proof of the environmental compatibility of their products.

A global market that benefits everyone and does not place the environment at risk is certainly an aim worth pursuing. However, if the government of the USA is not prepared to accept this responsibility, then it is certainly better and in the interest of all if other countries set their own rules. That this results in an effective trade barrier is regrettable, but the barrier could easily be removed if the USA adopted the same responsible attitude towards the environment.


Matthias Tomczak