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risks

We need to move from arbitrary crisis response to systematic risk management: A perspective from WDR 2014

Norman Loayza's picture

An old proverb cautions that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” There is a lot of truth to this: interventions to prevent infectious disease and infant malnutrition have repeatedly been estimated to have very high returns, with benefit-cost ratios as high as 15 to 1.

The proverb also applies outside health. Time and again, failure to prevent and prepare has tragic and costly consequences—economic and financial crises, natural disasters, ruinous health outcomes, social unrest—that often could have been avoided at moderate cost. In 2010, an earthquake in Haiti cost more than 220,000 lives, while one of much larger magnitude in Chile produced about 500 fatalities. Chile’s enforcement of building codes appears to account for much of the difference.

Managing Risk for Development

Kaushik Basu's picture

Suppose a political leader implements a policy that results in an economic crisis in the sense that, had he not implemented the policy in this instance, the crisis would not have occurred. In such a situation we are inclined to come down heavily on the leader’s policy and castigate the decision. This would however be a mistake.

To see the mistake—as to see so many things in life—it is worth converting this to a more abstract problem. A (fair) dice is about to be rolled; but before that you have to choose between A and B. If you choose A and the dice outcome is 1 or 2, or you choose B and the dice outcome is 3, 4, 5 or 6, all will be well. Otherwise, there is a major food crisis. What should you do? A little thought makes it clear that you should choose B. If after that the dice shows up on 1, there will of course be a crisis, but that disastrous outcome would not render your decision wrong. Indeed, if you had to play the game again, you should make the same choice.