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Le principe de précaution comme norme de l'action publique ou la proportionnalité en question


  • Olivier Godard

    (CECO - Laboratoire d'économétrie de l'École polytechnique - Polytechnique - X - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)


In France the precautionary principle gave birth to two basic opposite interpretations. The first one, fixed in the French legal framework and developed by the European doctrine, supports an early but proportionate consideration of potential hazards. The second one has been backed by environmental NGOs and disseminated into current use by media and political circles under crisis circumstances. It asks for a proof of no-risk and aims at eradicating all sources of hazards to the possible extent. As a result, a basic confusion arose between two ideas: to take early preventive action, and to accumulate more stringent preventive measures. Firstly, the paper sketches the landscape of competing concepts. It then shows why the "abstention rule" cannot be supported, even when its requirements are attenuated. It also identifies how a wrong framing of the decision problem leads a specific artefact to arise, by which earliness in the scientific time induces an overall inflation of risks through a perception of increased potential damage. To keep the precautionary principle on the right track, two requirements are to be met: enforcing the consideration of potential benefits the same way as potential hazards; proportioning preventive measures to the scientific plausibility of hypotheses of risks, in order to give a lower weight to assumptions deprived of significant evidence.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivier Godard, 2003. "Le principe de précaution comme norme de l'action publique ou la proportionnalité en question," Working Papers hal-00242985, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:wpaper:hal-00242985
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kimball, Miles S, 1990. "Precautionary Saving in the Small and in the Large," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(1), pages 53-73, January.
    2. Dixit, Avinash K, 1989. "Entry and Exit Decisions under Uncertainty," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(3), pages 620-638, June.
    3. Gollier, Christian & Jullien, Bruno & Treich, Nicolas, 2000. "Scientific progress and irreversibility: an economic interpretation of the 'Precautionary Principle'," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 229-253, February.
    4. Ben S. Bernanke, 1983. "Irreversibility, Uncertainty, and Cyclical Investment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(1), pages 85-106.
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    Cited by:

    1. Meglena Jeleva & Stephane Rossignol, 2009. "Political decision of risk reduction: the role of trust," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 139(1), pages 83-104, April.
    2. Eric BERR (GREThA), 2008. "Which development for the 21st century? Reflections on sustainable development\r\n (In French)," Cahiers du GREThA 2008-04, Groupe de Recherche en Economie Théorique et Appliquée.

    More about this item


    Precautionary principle; Uncertainty; Hazards; Assessment; Risques; Principe de précaution; Evaluation; Incertitude; Décision;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • K32 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law - - - Energy, Environmental, Health, and Safety Law


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