How we helped industry estimate how much death was acceptable

Our presentation was believable. But to embrace it? Gullibility isn't the problem, evil is.

In the course of making The Yes Fix the World, we interviewed one free-market promoter who made fun of the Precautionary Principle — basically, that you should avoid making dangerous shit if you can help it — by saying that under that Principle, cavemen would never have invented fire because the risk was too great.

That got us to thinking. There's a term of art in business called "Acceptable Risk," meaning what it sounds like. But if, as free-marketeers advocate, corporations are allowed to do whatever they want without interference from government (i.e. people), then where is that "Acceptable Risk" line drawn? It seems like the answer is: wherever the corporations won't get in trouble.

So we came up with (and actually coded!) an Acceptable Risk Calculator (ARC), that would help a corporation decide whether a lethal risk they were contemplating was indeed acceptable, with the calculation being: if it's profitable enough, and the risks of profit-destroying lawsuits low enough, then it's Acceptable. 

We launched the ARC with a presentation at a banking conference in London, and peppered our Powerpoint with examples of getting away with murder, literally — like Dow's Bhopal catastrophe, for example, where thousands of Bhopalis died but Dow suffered no consequences. Deaths like that, that you get away with, are acceptable, "golden," whereas ones that you have to pay for are just regular skeletons, bad. The reaction of the audience was depressingly positive. 

In our film, this event is presented as the first action we undertake after learning about Dow's culpability for the Bhopal catastrophe. But it wasn't — it took place a few months after "Jude Finisterra's" appearance on the BBC . And yes, the London banking conference organizers were that clueless. As Julian Assange noted, the "forces of darkness" may be very well funded, but they're not very motivated.