The kinds of risks we are willing to take speak volumes as to what policies we favor for our society. Consider the following questions, all of which are predicated on the assumption that public policy will never perfectly address the problem that it covers.
Which possibility do you prefer?
1. Too many people receiving government (taxpayer) services OR too few receiving them?
2. A guilty person going free OR an innocent person punished?
3. A fetus aborted OR a child born into a life of starvation?
4. Children with access to marijuana OR adults deprived of marijuana for medical purposes?
5. Nazis with free speech rights OR government censorship of movies?
Why are these questions difficult to answer?
It is because policies are designed for the masses rather than the individual. In the first question, we cannot guarantee that everyone who needs services will receive them because of fraud and error. If we crack down on fraud by hiring more investigators, for example, we increase the chance that those who need services will be judged in error, thus resulting in too few getting the services.The same risk takes place in the other questions as well.
Mathematicians call this a Type I or Type II Error system. Guilty people will go free because prosecutors, judges and jurors make mistakes or have bias that causes misconduct. The best way to remedy the problem would be to change the laws to prevent errors from causing mistrials or by changing judicial instructions. But the result would most likely be an increase in innocent people found guilty.
Likewise, by changing policy to discourage or forbid abortion, we risk more children born to parents who live in poverty. If we crack down on possession of marijuana, we risk arresting or jailing even those who use it for medical purposes. If we tell the Nazis they may not have a parade, we will have trouble justifying a policy based on free speech for some and not others.
How do we make our decisions with these kinds of choices? We can acknowledge that no valid opinion will please everyone. We must at some point decide that some results are simply better than others. Those who favor too many people receiving taxpayer expenses will undoubtedly risk others calling them names like "socialist" but the disdain of others must be risked to effect public policy.
We can apply this "Risk Model" to the most serious questions before us. For example, we can decide whether the public needs a new investigation of the events of 9/11. The factors include the costs to the taxpayers, time spent in Congress or whatever forum is used and the possibility of government secrets revealed.
The question before us is then: Would you prefer the possibility that guilty people go free for the crimes of 9/11 OR the possibility that taxpayer money will be wasted in the process of conducting the investigation?
It all depends on what you are willing to risk.