Monday, 29 March 2021


Have you noticed that bookies have invaded virtually everywhere we live. There are hundreds of them. Baylor University Professor Earl Grinols estimates that addicted gamblers cost the U.S. alone between $32.4 billion and $53.8 billion a year. Gambling is going to be a much greater problem in the future … I bet you.

But risk, although fundamental to gambling, is a much larger issue the understanding of which will shape all our lives. Government policy hinges on risk analysis. Personally, we daily make decisions based on our judgement of the likelihood of them turning out well.

The person we marry, the job we take, the house we buy, the holiday we take and more. Covid has sharpened all our views on risk. We have two extremes: the people who are so cautious they double mask, avoid all human contact, leave 30 feet between themselves and another in the street, wash their hands every 20 minutes and put their letters into the oven and cook them until they are charred and germ free. 

Whilst Rishi Sunak is now imploring us to go out and have fun and save the economy just like we saved the NHS,  the ultra-cautious are quaking in anticipation of the fourth wave with a mutant virus that will kill us. 

And in the blue corner (the dark blue Tory corner) we have the handshaking, hugging, rugby-scrumming, beer-swigging proponents of largesse , bonhomie and a casual attitude to life – “for tomorrow we die”. Rebels against caution and safety first:  skydivers, mountaineers, black run skiers. They believe in the right of everyone to make their own choices in life regardless of the probable consequences to themselves or others.

It seems to me both get it wrong, Mr Reckless and Ms Lifeless. The reality is we have to manage risk. We cannot eliminate it and if we tried we wouldn’t drive, fly, go on trains, cycle, go to restaurants, cinemas or meet people (or ‘germ-carriers’ as some see them.)

Robert Benchley, the American writer, satirised the cautious lifeless:

“Sometimes I’m so worried that I stay in bed. There I worry about falling out and breaking something.”  

The 21st century is not a place for tidy minds. It’s messy and it’s full of hazards. The better things get, the more risks emerge. Disease travels. Sophisticated communication systems fail. We are living on the edge of apocalyptic events (recently a storm cloud in the Western Pacific reached a temperature of -100C;  a record, but one that will soon be broken) and we need to plan for what we’ll do if, no when, these destructive events happen.

One thing we have to be more realistic about is death. I recently said I would die in the relatively near future…realistic not morbid. This provoked an emotional “don’t say that”. But I must. In 1950 the annual death rate was 1% of population. By 2019 it  had fallen to around O.7%. In 2020 thanks  to Covid there were 70,000 more deaths than forecast. Yet in reality whilst tragic that’s not cataclysmic. Despite the headlines we are living longer and better.

So let’s cheer up. 2020 has been a year of massive epidemiological advance and of understanding how to manage extreme risks. We have learnt about the fragility of the experts’ opinions and the penalties of caution. Everything that went wrong has been due to caution and indecision. The next decades will be full of “Black Swan” events. We just need to be prepared for them, learn from mistakes and enjoy life. 

!f we don’t enjoy it, what is life for?

1 comment:

John Eustace said...

We'd better get on with it then. Lunch one day towards the end of April?