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“The Tyranny of Tiny Risks”

In response to my letter today to the Wall Street Journal, Washington University economist Ian Fillmore sent to me the following e-mail, which I share with his kind permission:

Hi Don,

Like you, I find the whole blood clot thing incredibly frustrating. But there is something comical about the sequence of events. For most of 2020 we fixated on the low probability risk of dying from Covid (very low if you are under 65 years old) to the exclusion of all other risks. No price was too high to pay to reduce the risk from Covid, regardless of how low that risk might be. Until, that is, in April of 2021 we discovered any even more remote risk to fixate on—blood clots associated with the J&J Covid vaccine. Suddenly, no price is too high to pay, including the cost of more Covid deaths, to reduce the risk of blood clots. You might call it the tail wagging the dog, but it’s really the flea on the tip of the tail causing the dog to jump like a kangaroo.

We probably need a good pithy phrase for this phenomenon. Something like “the tyranny of tiny risks.” Alas, I’m not so great at coining phrases.

Ian Fillmore