Monday, 1 June 2020


I have been working on and thinking a lot about managing risk over the past week. I recall the wonderfully acerbic H.L. Mencken‘s words:

“the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Life is risky. If we try to eliminate all risk we’ll stay in bed. Don’t drive – 27,000 die or are seriously injured every year on the roads.

Don’t go in the kitchen – fires, fingers sliced off, slipping on spilt liquid – the place is a death trap. Don’t play football – as many as one in five suffer a serious injury sometime. Don’t be born – 600,000 people die in the UK every year.

To be alive is to be at constant risk. Yet our human strategy has always been to manage risk not to avoid it. If there were no risktakers there’d be no new products, new companies or discoveries. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit that makes being a human so worthwhile . Yet…back to Mencken… this global pandemic globally reflected his cynical observation.

A culture of risk aversion, almost comic indecisiveness and panic interviewing of anyone who has the willingness to appear on radio or TV and say something different especially attacking the government (not that they deserve any praise, just a bit less mindless kicking).

OK smartarse so what would you do?

Mostly not pretend there was one foolproof plan (how can there be when no one really understands this virus?) nor would I let clever but uncertain experts divert me from one key strategy.
We have got to get the economy moving much faster. To spend so much money just putting it into hibernation has been perverse.

OK how?

One thing I’d do is abandon that two metre rule. The WHO recommend one metre and only two countries advocate two metres. The UK and Spain (the 4th and 5th worst performers in terms of deaths per million). So that didn’t work too well. Current risk aversion would suggest we extended not reduced it.

If instead we reduced it by 36 inches to one metre we could open pubs, restaurants and the tourist economy might start purring into life. Is it a risk? Of course it is. It’s a manageable risk and one we should take.

Unless the towns come back to life it’s hard to start the rest of the economy. And if they do revive a strategy of awakening a dozy, just-had-a-lovely sabbatical workforce is easier to achieve.
The fear and alarm about Covid19 needs to be cooled and proportionate – here in Brighton the incidence has been low. The hospitals have not been and are not overrun. We have to balance risk and reward.

I am not advocating recklessness but we cannot nor should we try to exclude all risk. If we do we shall give up our humanity, our economy and our children’s future.

No comments: