Government inaction

Visualization of narrower problems
Government inertia on social health issues
Government paralysis
Governmental resistance in response to problems
Government avoidance of action
Passive government
Government avoidance of scientific evidence
Government delay in response to symptoms of problems

The inability or unwillingness for a government to act on perceived and acknowledged problems frequently exacerbates suffering and increases the extent of damage done by the problems.


A 1991 report found that western European governments were ignoring evidence from Canada and New Zealand that there is a direct relationship between the prevalence of tobacco advertisements and national smoking habits. The 1989 introduction of a smoking advertisement ban in Canada led to a 6 percent drop in smoking among women aged 16-24 in one year. A similar ban in New Zealand led to a fall in tobacco sales of nearly 10 percent within 6 months in 1991. According to a 1991 British Medical Association review, for every £1 spent on health education against tobacco use, the tobacco industry spends £25 to attract new customers.


1. In some political systems inaction is made safe and attractive because the potential costs of action are much higher than penalties for inaction.

2. Government has been so polarized by single-issue groups, special interest groups, and lobbyists, that it is not easy to get together to solve anything anymore.

3. In the case of Bosnia, the policy of inaction has had a pervasive effect. It has legitimized an attitude. After surviving the moral consequences of practised indifference, governments have been fortified to discover that inaction becomes a strategy whose failure is not exposed. It can be seen as the continuation of well established practices whereby the victims of misgovernment in other countries are allowed to suffer any consequences.

4. Governments that are passively dependent upon public opinion, as are the democracies, as a general rule are incapable of dealing with long-term threats requiring the sacrifice of lives, or even the serious risk of lost lives, even when a reasoned case can be made that this will save lives in the longer term. They mobilize sacrifices only in war itself, or exceptional circumstances.

5. A crisis is made worse by attempts to deny evidence for its existence. Government agencies are not interested in responding to emerging crises since their officials sincerely believe that absence of evidence is the same as evidence of absence of risk.

(C) Cross-sectoral problems