A recent editorial in the Washington Post pointed out that, while thousands have been killed by Hurricane Mitch in Central America, it has been a quarter of a century since a hurricane killed more than a hundred people in the United States. Moreover, the editorial writer understands why: We are a wealthier country, which leads to a better ability to forecast hurricanes and to cope with them through sturdier buildings, mass evacuations and more and better medical care.

In short, wealth is a great factor in improved safety. This is too often completely overlooked by safety zealots who make grandiloquent pronouncements that “whatever it costs, it is worth it if it saves just one human life.” Sacrificing wealth means sacrificing safety and ultimately lives. Whether particular regulations save more lives directly than they cost indirectly by sacrificing or inhibiting the production of wealth is an empirical question. But it is a question that is seldom asked.

Despite theWashington Post editorial’s promising beginning, it never reaches the point of seeing a need to reconsider safety crusades that sacrifice wealth. Instead, the Post simply urges sending money to Central America and reducing “global warming” in order to reduce hurricanes.

The staggering costs of the “global warming” crusade—both directly in expenditures and indirectly in perhaps even larger sacrifices of wealth due to draconian restrictions on production—are painfully ironic in view of the Post’s acknowledgment that wealth greatly enhances safety.

None of this gets to the deeper questions about the empirical evidence on which the “global warming” crusade is based. Weather satellite data tell a very different story from that told by computer models or by temperature readings taken near cities that give off their own heat.

The scientist who set up the American weather satellite system, Dr. S. Fred Singer has expressed great skepticism as to whether the globe has in fact gotten any warmer in recent years. The temperature readings from the weather satellites don’t show it. The careful analysis of data from a variety of sources by Dr. Singer in his book Hot Talk Cold Science is in sharp contrast to the hysterical simplicities of the “global warming” zealots and politicians. Similar conclusions are explained on a layman’s level in Thomas G. Moore’s recent book, Climate of Fear—a book praised by Edward Teller and by a past president of the American Academy of Sciences, among others.

The larger point is that safety involves trade-offs, like everything else. Unfortunately, liberals tend not to think in terms of trade-offs but instead to seek “solutions.” Nowhere is that more true than in issues involving safety.

Mandatory safety devices on guns are one of the latest safety crusades. Most firearms already have safety devices of one sort or another but safety zealots are pushing for still more such devices to be imposed on all. It never seems to occur to them that more safety in one respect can mean less safety in other respects.

One of the latest high-tech ideas is to have the gun owner wear a wristband that gives off electronic signals, without which the gun will not fire. That way children or others who find the gun cannot use it.

The other side of the coin is that this and other new safety devices increase dangers by making the gun less accessible when it is needed in self-defense. When there is an armed intruder in your home in the middle of the night, you cannot call “time out” while you go look for your wristband. There also may not be time to undo all the other new safety devices that third parties have chosen to impose by law.

A recent study at the University of Chicago showed that armed citizens have a major impact in reducing violent crime. Those who are constantly seeking to disarm law-abiding citizens shut their eyes completely to such evidence. Crusaders do not want to be confused by cost-benefit analysis.

Safety crusades create political dangers as well. No matter what policy we follow on any safety issue, nothing will ever be completely safe. This means that there will always be a blank check for a never-ending expansion of laws and regulations, unless and until we begin weighing one thing against another.