"Anthrax and Lawyers":

Interesting piece by Peter Huber in this week's Forbes magazine on efforts by the federal government to spur development and acquisition of an anthrax vaccine, "Anthrax and Lawyers." According to Huber, fears of product liability litigation have deterred major pharmaceutical companies from bidding to produce an anthrax vaccine and similar fears have forced efforts to distribute the vaccine through a regulatory command-and-control distribution system rather than a market distribution system.

One interesting point he makes that I hadn't previously considered is that the higher the vaccination rate, the lower the likelihood that terrorists will launch an antrax attack (because the damage will be smaller). Ex post it will then occur that administering the vaccine will have been unnecessary in light of those who inevitably will be harmed by it. This doesn't, of course, mean that we should administer the vaccine widely, which should be a matter of ex ante risk analysis. But it does raise an interesting question about precautions, side-effects, and ex post risk analysis, an issue that Huber seems to believe the products liability system is ill-equipped to process.

I wasn't familiar with all this, so I can't vouch for all the details of what Huber describes. But assuming it is true, it raises some interesting questions about the relationship between the products liability system and national security questions.