Grassroot Perspective – July 23, 2003-Precautionary Principle a Risky Gambit; Life, Liberty, and AnN E-mail Address?; Why Piddle Around? Jobs and Economic Development

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”Shoots (News, Views and Quotes)”


– Precautionary Principle a Risky Gambit

By Michael De Alessi

The recently passed Precautionary Principle ordinance purports to make
San Francisco a leader by “challenging traditional assumptions about
risk management.” In truth, it will likely be bad for the city, public
health and the environment.

The precautionary principle is routinely described as “better safe than
sorry.” Risk reduction is a laudable goal, but only when weighed against
the risks of not taking certain actions. The trick is balancing the two.
The city needs a policy of risk management and mitigation, not a mandate
for the elimination of risk, which is simply impossible.

The ordinance mandates “selection of the alternative that presents the
least potential threat to human health.” But what if the least riskiest
option also confers the least benefit? Although it has now been added
(but only once), the word “benefit” did not appear in the original ordinance. San Franciscans should know better.

AIDS activists here have had to fight the FDA tooth and nail over drug
approvals because the FDA believes potential risks outweigh potential

That is, the FDA practices the precautionary principle.

Of course, many chemicals pose health risks, and we should do everything
we can to lessen their impact on our lives and to find alternatives. But
not at the expense of inferior alternatives that result in greater harm
to human health or the environment. Activists have targeted genetically
modified organisms because they carry an uncertain risk. But many of
those organisms drastically reduce pesticide use, a good thing by the
activists’ own standards.

Here’s how Chronicle columnist Ruth Rosen described the Precautionary
Principle ordinance (“Better safe than sorry,” June 19): “When science
cannot yet fully establish a cause-and-effect relationship, but can
provide reasonable evidence of harm, this principle urges us to take
precautionary measures. In other words, if we wait until we’re
absolutely certain, we’ve probably waited too long.”

It sounds just as reasonable to say: “When science cannot yet fully
establish a cause-and-effect relationship, but can provide reasonable
evidence of benefit, this principle urges us to act.” In fact, both
approaches are meaningless unless risk and benefit, including cost, are
taken into account.

San Francisco is a dangerous place to cross the street, yet thousands of
people do it every day. Applying the precautionary principle, however,
pedestrians would have to be certain that no car loomed around the
corner. They would never get out the front door.

Obviously, there are different scales of risks. It is more dangerous to
cross 19th Avenue at rush hour than a secluded cul-de-sac at lunchtime.
But if all risk is unacceptable, as it is for proponents of the
precautionary principle, both would be treated the same way, which is

Perhaps the most infamous example of risk reduction at all costs
occurred in Peru in 1991. After a U.S. EPA study found evidence of an
increase in cancer risk from a chlorine byproduct, officials in Peru
stopped using chlorine to disinfect drinking water, resulting in a
widespread cholera outbreak that killed thousands. Innumerable cases
show that the elimination of “dangerous” risks would result in a lower
standard of health and well-being.

By setting an unattainable benchmark, San Francisco’s Precautionary
Principle ordinance has no way to measure success. To be truly on the
cutting edge of risk management, the city should institute some
performance measures that take risk, benefit and cost into account. The
goal should not be risk reduction alone but a net improvement in human
health and safety.

In these days of cash-strapped cities and states, we need the maximum
benefit possible. That means scientifically rigorous assessments of risk
that consider whatever means are available to improve health and
environmental safety.


Michael De Alessi is Director of Natural Resource Policy at Reason

Above article is quoted by the author’s permission. It appeared on July
17, 2003 in San Francisco Chronicle.

– Life, Liberty, AND AnN E-mail Address?

The St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday that Gov. Jeb Bush is
considering giving every Floridian a free e-mail address — all 16
million of them. The project would be “paid for by the government and
our partners in technology,” Bush said. The proposal is still in the
planning stages.

JMI Executive Vice President Curt Leonard had this to say about the

“While the governor’s idea of providing every Floridian a ‘free’ e-mail
address was expressed with the best of intentions, there is something
about it that is just too.Orwellian. Does the government have to get
into everything just because it means well? The state of Florida has
enough on its plate without ‘giving away’ e-mail addresses.

“Gratis government e-mail addresses cuts both ways, since, if received,
the government now has your e-mail address! At some point, the next
great idea will be to give people an ID number/address that will take
care of drivers licenses, social security, e-mail addresses and on and

Whenever the government wants to ‘help’ it’s important to always ask the
question, ‘how could this be screwed up?’ and then proceed from there.”

Above article is quoted from The James Madison Institute , Madison
Policy Digest June 23, 2003

”Roots (Food for Thought)”

– Why Piddle Around?

Jobs and Economic Development

By John W. Courtney, Senior Fellow, AIFE

The economy slows and states scramble for a response. State economic
development gurus scour state budgets, asking: “Where do we find money
to create jobs?” Meanwhile unemployment and welfare leaders dole cash to
claimants asking: “How long must we wait for jobs.” The opportunity to
turn cash support into jobs and economic development is ripe. Sound

A Lesson from the Depression – How not to do it

In 1935, with unemployment at 18 percent, President Roosevelt decided to fund
jobs, not unemployment and he created the Works Progress Administration
(WPA). The WPA used government money for government jobs and was warmly
received at first. But when it became apparent that many of the supposed
jobs were merely “make work,” the WPA lost favor and became rhetorically
known as We Piddle Around.

Roosevelt reemphasized the project nature of the program, renaming it
the Works Projects Administration and over eight years, the WPA built
thousands of schools, bridges and other public projects. More
importantly, 8.5 million people worked and reaped the financial and
psychological benefits of work.

Unfortunately, the WPA was expensive and, according to many economists
had little economic development effect on the national economy, which
eventually climbed out of the Great Depression with monetary stimulus
and the consequent private sector spending.

The lessons are simple: 1) real work works and “make work” doesn’t, 2)
private works not public works stimulate the economy and 3) costs must
be controlled.

Promoting Work Today – Subsidized Wages

The modern-day scaled-down cousins of the WPA are subsidized wage
programs. They come in a variety of forms, but are widely underutilized
in most states.

Subsidized wage programs take the money states spend on the unemployed
(cash benefits or classroom training) and offer it to employers who
agree to provide job seekers with a job, training and a regular wage.
The subsidy normally funds about half of the employer’s wage cost for
three to six months, providing an incentive and ensuring a partnership.

Wage subsidies have evolved to answer the criticisms of the Roosevelt
era program. They: 1) create real work with employers who will not hire
an employee for “make work;” 2) promote economic development by
targeting job creation and immediately increasing production; and 3)
contain costs by simply converting previously committed money.

An Example

One such subsidized wage program operates in Oregon. Over 10,000
employers have used it and say they like the program. They like it so
much that when surveyed by the state, over 96% that used the program
were in favor of the program, and over 80% said it helped their business
by: 1) lowering costs; 2) increasing their capacity; and/or 3)
supporting expansion.

Sound like economic development?

Consider the economic impact in modest-sized Oregon (pop. 3.5 million).
In fiscal year 2001, over $25 million normally used to subsidize
unemployment was used to subsidize jobs and injected back into the
economy in the form of production. Wages paid in the economy were twice
the amount of benefit checks, and the unemployed became producers in the
economy, tapping the multiplier effect and adding to the tax base.

Compare this to other economic development programs, for example, tax
credits that lure jobs from one community to another – arguably a zero
sum game. And consider the cost/savings:

In 2002, over one third of US unemployment insurance claimants exhausted
their claims without finding work costing states well over $5,000 a
piece – US Department of Labor.
Welfare recipients who need the most help spend years on welfare costing
nearly $10,000 per year and sometimes bumping into their five-year
eligibility limits without finding work.
Typical wage subsidies range from $3,000 to $5,000.

Job Seekers

Job seekers fared well too. State studies show that over 65% of
participants found permanent jobs at the end of the program and that it
increased their wages. Over 80% of participants approved of the program
and would choose it again, if they could.

But is on-the-job training needed? According the W.E. Upjohn Institute
for Employment Research, in a recent study on the subject, not only is
on-the-job training critical, attaining it through subsidized wages is
one of the most effective ways to help people move into work. 1


How do states fund subsidized wages?

Welfare (TANF) – include it in the state plan (many states already have)

Unemployment Insurance – divert part of the UI tax to a state-controlled
fund similar to other diversions many states have or include it in the
state’s training UI program
Workforce Investment Act – local boards can fund on-the-job training as
provided under the Act
NAFTA and Trade Adjustment Act – allowable under the terms of the acts
Food Stamp Employment and Training – include it in the state’s plan
With so many cost-free ways to create jobs and economic development, one
question remains:
Why piddle around?


1 Fighting Poverty with Labor Demand Policies, Upjohn Institute, Timothy
J. Bartik, Senior Economist

Above article is quoted from American Institute for Full Employment,
Step, Spring 2003

”Evergreen (Today’s Quote)”

“Truth and news are not the same thing.” — Katharine Graham, The
Washington Post

”’Edited by Richard O. Rowland, president of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, 1314 S. King Street, Suite 1163, Honolulu, HI 96814. Phone/fax is 808-591-9193, cell phone is 808-864-1776. Send him an email at:”’ ”’See the Web site at:”’