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The precautionary principle. Between social norms and economic constructs


  • Olivier Godard

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


This paper matches interpretations of the precautionary principle coming from two horizons: economic theory of risk framed in a Bayesian framework, and social heuristic concepts validated by public European and domestic institutions. Although they share some common features, it is shown that concepts and scopes differ a lot. In spite of this difference, analytical economics provide useful insights on key controversial questions for the implementation of this principle as a social norm. Examples concern the reversibility of precautionary measures, the issue of direct application to all individual agents versus reserved application to public bodies, and the burden of bringing appropriate scientific inputs.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivier Godard, 2005. "The precautionary principle. Between social norms and economic constructs," Working Papers hal-00243008, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:wpaper:hal-00243008
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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. Gollier, Christian & Treich, Nicolas, 2003. "Decision-Making under Scientific Uncertainty: The Economics of the Precautionary Principle," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 77-103, August.
    3. Grubb, Michael & Chapuis, Thierry & Duong, Minh Ha, 1995. "The economics of changing course : Implications of adaptability and inertia for optimal climate policy," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(4-5), pages 417-431.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Ben S. Bernanke, 1983. "Irreversibility, Uncertainty, and Cyclical Investment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(1), pages 85-106.
    7. Chris Starmer, 2000. "Developments in Non-expected Utility Theory: The Hunt for a Descriptive Theory of Choice under Risk," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(2), pages 332-382, June.
    8. Henry, Claude, 1974. "Investment Decisions Under Uncertainty: The "Irreversibility Effect."," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(6), pages 1006-1012, December.
    9. Minh Ha-Duong & Michael Grubb & Jean Charles Hourcade, 1997. "Influence of socioeconomic inertia and uncertainty on optimal CO2-emission abatement," Post-Print halshs-00002452, HAL.
    10. Alban Richard & Michel Trommetter, 2001. "Les caractéristiques d'une décision séquentielle. Effet irréversibilité et endogénéisation de l'environnement," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 52(3), pages 739-752.
    11. Hourcade, Jean-Charles & Salles, Jean-Michel & Thery, Daniel, 1992. "Ecological economics and scientific controversies. Lessons from some recent policy making in the EEC," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 211-233, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Claude HENRY & Marc HENRY, 2002. "Formalization and Applications of the Precuationary Principle," Discussion Papers (IRES - Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales) 2002009, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).

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