Sunday, December 6, 2009

What Prevents Prevention?

In our last entry, we protagonized the power of prevention, not just in healthcare, but also in strengthening national security. In this one, we identify three reasons why preventionist policies typically fail to gain enough traction to take hold (and ultimately work).

1. It’s invisible. Support is difficult to develop for something that is invisible. Prevention, by definition, addresses a problem that, whether yet developed or not, we certainly cannot see (and one we’ll never see if prevention is effective). Look no further than the climate change debate in America to quickly grasp this concept. We can’t see or hear or feel climate change in any real, personal way, so we debate its very existence, instead of ways to prevent it. Heck, look no further than your own reaction to the following preventionist statement: In 2011, we will need to invest just as much into Indonesia than into Iraq. If that sounds outlandish to you, then you’re part of what prevention is up against.

2. It’s inefficient. Because prevention is invisible, we have to focus everywhere all the time to prevent disaster from striking. For the body, we must focus on all of its parts (i.e., the organs and bones and muscles and other internal tissues), not just the pain points. For national security, we must focus on all the regions of the globe, not just the Middle East. Focusing everywhere, all the time, is simply inefficient. Our resources are better directed towards something “real,” particularly in a world of competing and consequential priorities. At least that’s what is required to get people to agree to spend time and money on it.

3. It’s incomplete. For such inefficiency, prevention is still not a panacea. It will likely always remain just a piece of the solution, not the whole. The capacity for, and willingness to use, force will remain an effective deterrent. It must underwrite any effective prevention campaign. In healthcare, prevention can’t exclusively eradicate cancer once somebody has it. In national security, prevention can’t exclusively fight extremism once it’s developed. In both cases, we have to bring in the heavy artillery to help combat the problem. It’s easy to just believe “this is the way it is” and use that belief as reason not to pursue prevention more holistically than we already do.

Now What
How do we overcome the barriers to effective preventionism? Is it as simple as persuading a critical mass of people to agree to the merits of it? And if so, then how do we do it?

We’d like to hear from you. Do you agree with the notion of prevention as effective policy? If not, why not? If so, why isn’t there more of it? And what can we do to see more of it in official policy? Comment below or email us at

1 comment:

  1. Education! The more educated the "masses" are, the more likely they will buy into preventionism instead of reactionism because they will be able to more fully comprehend and grasp the benefits of a long-term view and see past short-term issues. A widespread educational campaign such as Al Gore's climate change awarness significantly altered people's willingness to take action to prevent a climate crisis despite uncertainty about what the real effects of the crisis will be.