David R. Henderson  

Survey on the FDA

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A Puzzle from the Blizzard... Morning Commentary...

I just finished filling out my survey on my views of the Food and Drug Administration's monopoly on approvals of drugs and medical devices. I was one of 305 economists asked by Econ Journal Watch to do so.

Most of the questions allowed for answers of the yes/no or strongly disagree to strongly agree variety. But at the end, I got to comment at greater length. The last question is:

Do you have any general comments about this questionnaire or further thoughts about the matters treated?
I answered:
Yes. I would have liked to give my reasons for things. Specifically, the question about government's knowledge. We are individuals with different incomes, wealth, inclination, attitudes to risk, etc. The idea that government can make good decisions about what drugs we should have is as absurd as the idea that government can make good decisions about what places we should be allowed to travel to.

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COMMENTS (17 to date)
Tom West writes:

I think your explanation fits in with exactly why I think that Libertarianism will always be a (necessary) fringe movement.

For the vast majority of people, being protected against peril is far more important than the loss of a freedom that few would ever want to exercise.

In general, people get outraged if they are forced to take pro-active measures (like reading instructions, etc.) to protect themselves from harm. In fact, the tendency has been for people to demand removal of a product for which it is even *possible* to misuse it to one's detriment.

In general, Libertarianism asks people to trade a security they desperately desire for a freedom that most don't really want. (Of course, many will say they'll want freedom, but aren't willing to pay once the price is known.)

The idea that government can make good decisions about what drugs we should have is as absurd as the idea that government can make good decisions about what places we should be allowed to travel to.

Absolutely. Can you imagine the *outrage* if a bunch of Americans were to come to grief by unwittingly traveling to a place that the gov't *knew* to be hazardous? Because very few people want drugs outside of the approved list and the cost of misuse is very high, drugs get higher protection/prohibition than travel, but make no mistake - modern society is about reducing risk.

Which is why Libertarians are necessary. Somebody has to point out that there's a cost to reducing that risk. Humanity needs a movement to counterweight our most basic tendencies.

Daniel Klein writes:

Hi David,

I haven't looked at your responses, but I suspect you responded in a way that misses the other open-ended opportunities.

In particular, when it asks about market-failure rationales, people who affirm the existence of such come to a selection including an open-ended "Other[please specify]" opportunity.

Those who believe in market-failure rationales, systematic errors, and so on encounter more open-ended opportunities than you did, I suspect. We are serious about giving those we disagree with good opportunity to explain their thinking.

Anyone can freely experiment with different paths at the ungated survey:

http://www.surveywriter.net/in/survey/survey1427/pma.asp

Cheers, Dan Klein

Chris Koresko writes:

Would it be practical to have a society which divides people into "competent" and "protected" classes, defined such that the former have explicitly chosen greater liberty and the responsibility which comes with it?

Nathan writes:

Of course, the problem with that particular reductio ad absurdum is that the government does indeed decree where we can and cannot travel, as Cuba has been off-limits for nearly 50 years.

Perhaps a better line would be "The idea that government can make good decisions about what drugs we should have is as absurd as the idea that government can make good decisions about what foods we're allowed to eat." Except now the nanny state wants to butt in there too. I tell ya, it's tough making libertarian reductio ad absurdum arguments these days!

Aaron writes:

Nathan,

What's the problem? The fact that they actually prohibit you from visiting Cuba doesn't make the concept any less absurd.

Eric H writes:

Don't forget that the government also tells us we aren't capable of selling our organs, or buying new ones if we need them!

Instead it tries to compel us to donate them with pitiful ad campaigns such as this one with the creepy, dirigiste slogan "Do It Now!"

GabbyD writes:

is there no point to the FDA then? what about drug efficacy? drug safety? are these not empircally grounded concepts that scientific studies can contribute to?

Steve Z writes:

Gabby:

The FDA would be a wonderful agency if it merely informed the populace about drugs, rather than determining which drugs were allowed to be used, and when.

Tom West writes:

Would it be practical to have a society which divides people into "competent" and "protected" classes, defined such that the former have explicitly chosen greater liberty and the responsibility which comes with it?

An interesting idea, but I think you're projecting your prejudices when you call the unprotected group "competent". Many competent people do not want to have to monitor their doctor, their medication, their food, the businesses they deal with, etc, for minimal safety standards that are currently maintained by the government.

Of course, usually it is a matter of having a lot of competence in a few certain areas, and wanting to be protected in all the rest. Thus in any given area, only a small minority benefit from the extra freedoms granted by lack of regulation.

Which is why it's important to have a vocal group of Libertarians to counteract (to some degree) the natural pull towards complete security and very little choice indeed.

Loof writes:

With Tom West:
Good sublation with your thoughts on this topic. You reason well: negate negatives and preserve positives in opposing arguments to advance a concept.

GabbyD writes:

@steve

what is the damage wrought by keeping drugs that

a. dont meet a min safety standard?

or

b. dont meet a min efficacy standard

off the market?

Tom West writes:

Thanks Loof for your intriguing comment. It made me go off and read up on the dialectical process. I'm always happy to be educated :-).

Loof writes:

Are you Canadian, Tom?

If so, it affirms a thesis. A millennium ago, L, too busy at the time, put aside an offer to partner with David MacGregor (U. of Western Ontario) who believed that Canadians are culturally dialectical (but don’t know it), which distinguished them from Americans. Makes some sense with Uncle Sam’s analytical expertise and academics more inclined to be “vs.” most things absolutely one way or the other. And, it makes sense to Canada's survival and success to evolve and adapt to the relative state of affairs akin to the absolute superstate.

The thesis extended to people in general as well as academics. MacGregor told the story from the 60s when one of the world’s leading theoretical Hegelians squared off politically with the person who turned out to be the world’s leading practical neo-Hegelian. In 1965, Pierre Trudeau (Liberal) fought and beat Charles Taylor (New Democrat).

Loof writes:

Another point about Science of Logic, dialectical and democratic processes. Hegel destroyed the natural law of America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution establishing the absolute state in positive law with his Philosophy of Right (1821). He negated justified revolution based on natural law in France to establish republicanism. The USA was collateral damage.

How ironic, that now America is the quintessential absolute state with Hegelian statism; while Canada is a moderate relative state allowing separation (i.e. Quebec mainly, but Alberta somewhat) with a dialectical and democratic process. Canada is more “American” relative to the Declaration of Independence than Uncle Sam nowadays. America is absolutely Hegelian about the State; Canada is relatively Hegelian with a dialectical and democratic processes - though neither know it.

Tom West writes:

Okay, now I'm impressed. I am indeed Canadian.

Now I'm going to have to do a bunch more reading to appreciate the rest of your post. :-)

Loof writes:

Not a bunch, there's a few good classics to read: Ernst Cassirer’s The Myth of the State; and, A. P. d’Entreves’ Natural Law. Reading Hegel is extremely difficult to almost impossible.

Loof writes:

Tom West asks David:
Are they any non-fraudulent contracts between capable parties that you believe *should* be disallowed by law?

Would governments’ insurance (assurances?) for nuclear power plants be an example, David? Any insurance company take the risk? However, the government wouldn't be a “capable” party, if insane.

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