Risk Assessment

I’m beginning to think that the downfall of our society won’t be caused by economic hardship but by our society’s ever growing unwillingness to accept any risk. Consider this story:

That’s what parents are asking after hearing about a Long Island middle school’s decision to ban most balls during recess and also require supervision of tag, even cartwheels, due to safety concerns.

No longer allowed at the Weber Middle School in Port Washington, New York: footballs, baseballs, soccer balls, lacrosse balls and any other hardballs that could injure a child. Also off limits: rough games of tag and cartwheels unless an adult supervisor is on hand.

“We want to make sure our children have fun but are also protected,” Dr. Kathleen Maloney, superintendent of Port Washington Schools, said in a local television interview, noting how playground injuries can “unintentionally” become very serious.

Even at a very young age children are being taught that risk is unacceptable. While playground injuries are never favorable they are also notably rare when you consider how many students play on playgrounds versus how many students are injured on playgrounds. Combine that ratio with the fact that a vast majority of playground injuries are likely minor scrapes and cuts. How often has a kid been killed playing football. I’m sure somebody can point out one or two stories but such an occurrence is statistically rare.

But banning games involving balls and unsupervised tag reinforced a zero tolerance policy of risk. When you think about it, much of the ills our society faces may be attributed to an unwillingness to accept risk. Economic polices are an example of this. The Federal Reserve, and with it ills such as fractional reserve banking and continuous inflation, was put in place to supposedly mitigate the risk of booms and busts (it failed obviously). Whenever a single company manages to commit an act of fraud the state moves in with sweeping legislation that causes hardship for every other company. These laws are usually met with widespread support form the general public who believes our society must do something to ensure the risk of fraud is wiped from the face of the Earth. Outside of economics, the Affordable Car Act (ACA) is another example of our society being unwilling to accept risk. In the hopes of eliminating the risk of uninsured people there was a law supported by some very loud individuals for a law that mandates everybody buy insurance.

Risk can never be abolished. It is ever present in everything we do. Since it cannot be eliminated we must learn how to live with it. Risk assessment is an important skill, one that cannot be learned in a sterile world where we’re taught only to consider risk unacceptable. The harder we work to eliminate all risk the more risky our society it likely to become.