Risk Aversion and the Curse of Expediency

This third part of the contrapreneur series was originally posted on 28 August 2015 on the old site. The month of June, 2016 has shown how expediency (the political art of making an issue go away) is the key virtue in Brussels. The scandalous glyphosate abstain-game and the complex maze of please-no-one options the Commission created for the criterion for assessing endocrine disrupting chemicals were both classic examples of expediency. There was no attempt to reach a good decision. In a political structure built around stakeholder dialogue, now in a societal narrative where dialogue is dead, expedience rather than leadership seems to be the solution in functionary Brussels.This pass-the-parcel policy approach will have serious consequences!

This is the third part of a series that looked at how emphasising the hazard-based approach to regulations has led to irrational decisions and the rise of the contrapreneur’s agenda to return to some pre-industrial ideal world where we lived risk-free with nature. I ended by questioning how this incoherent policy agenda could succeed in Brussels. In the vision-less political atmosphere in Brussels, expediency is the virtue and avoiding mistakes is the objective. This is a climate ripe for the proliferation of the precautionary principle.

How has the contrapreneur become so successful in handcuffing innovation and denigrating the entrepreneur?

An entrepreneur has a vision, sets goals and achieves results, able to thrive in a risk-taking world where problems are not obstacles to run from, but challenges to overcome. Mistakes may happen, setbacks can occur, but the drive and passion of the entrepreneur is hard to contain. This world of visions, goals and results is being overcome in places like Brussels by the cynical world of functionary expediency.

To exercise the political virtue of expediency is part of the art of governing without a vision. Rather than being results driven, the expedient regulator will try to get through his or her career without taking risks or making mistakes. The path of least resistance, the most convenient approach and the easiest solutions are all hallmarks of the expedient regulator. Expedience is the opposite of conviction and purpose and this intellectual vacuum in places like the European Commission has provided fertile ground for contrapreneurs to ply their trade. In a risk averse world, not making mistakes is as good of a goal as you can hope to achieve.


Jean-Claude Juncker has had more than enough time to articulate his vision for Europe and begin achieving his goals … but he has none! He is the epitome of expediency and this strategic wasteland without ideas has led to: a policy on the Greek euro-crisis that has caused nothing but hardship; an indifference to solving the refugee crisis that has cost thousands of lives and the return of walls in Europe.

His main achievement? Juncker has removed the post of a Chief Scientific Adviser – something the contrapreneurs were demanding – and replacing her with a bureaucratic structure. Facts and science often interfere with the expedient, amoral politician. Although active in Brussels, I often find myself even forgetting Juncker’s name – one who lacks vision tends to be invisible.

The magic wand of precaution

The most expedient policy tool a regulator can use is the precautionary principle. By hiding behind  precaution, you can never be seen as being wrong (just careful and protective …. and quite possibly not right). So with precaution, you can make issues go away without having to make a difficult decision (or the issue may become some other person’s problem … like farmers or consumers). The loss of benefits can be masked by the facade of concern for safety and certainty. Uncertainty management (the hallmark of the hazard-based regulatory approach discussed in the first blog) means that any policy decision is abandoned until scientists can guarantee that the technology is 100% safe (politically safe, that is).

Central to the EU use of precaution (the David Gee/EEA version) is the reversal of the burden of proof. Unless you can prove that something is safe, it will be banned or denied market access. For the expedient regulator, this is attractive since I can avoid acting (transferring the responsibility elsewhere) and I don’t run the risk of making a mistake. I also don’t run the risk of allowing onto the market a technology with enormous benefits, perhaps life-saving drugs or means to improve the quality of life for millions, but as an expedient politician with no vision or values, I really don’t give a toss about that. If I can keep the activists in their silly bee costumes away from my office window, then I am winning.

Precaution is the bastard child of political expediency, raised to interfere with development and innovation and limit the aspirations of the risk-takers and entrepreneurs. Contrapreneurs, as romantic anachronisms of a neo-traditionalist naturalism, are using precaution to dismantle the achievements of industry, science and technology. And without visionary leaders in Brussels, they are succeeding in a world of expediency.

Dangerous idiots

The contrapreneurs’ answer to food security is more organic food; their answer to meeting increasing energy demands is to abandon fossil fuels, nuclear and hydroelectric power; their answer to ensuring jobs and economic growth is to block international trade agreements.

Many call these contrapreneurs: idealists. I call them dangerous idiots.

Do we want a world where our benefits and means to sustain a comfortable quality of life are slowly eroded by anti-progressive activist contrapreneurs? Should we be stifling entrepreneurs and industries that can solve problems and help society develop? Are we willing to accept stagnation and an expedient political class allowing contrapreneurs to obstruct technologies for some ecological eschatology? If not, then perhaps we should reconsider whether the hazard-based approach to regulations in Brussels is such a good idea, and re-establish the art of risk management.

But first we need leaders with the vision and courage to stand up to the contrapreneurs.

Image source

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Yes, dangerous idiots. Together with the useful idiots they form a powerful clique that takes society (they claim they represent) in hostage of their totalitarian ideology. As said the great Martin Luther King, “Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But, conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” These sock-puppets have no conscience.

    Keep up the good work.


    1. riskmonger says:

      Thanks for this – I had missed this quote but it sums things up perfectly. The word “expediency” was used a lot in public discussions in the 1960s and 70s – but has fallen out of common use today. Speculating on why this has happened might be an interesting study.


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