About five years ago a friend was visiting my home in Washington, DC (I’m a recovering academic from a previous life…..) and noticed a copy of Jack High and Clayton Coppin’s Politics of Purity on one of my cheap and ultimately doomed Ikea bookshelves. He turned, looked at me, and said “man, you really have become a libertarian haven’t you,” with the sort of fear and envy that conservative fellow travelers rarely admit to in public.
All he was saying of course was, “Good Lord, you believe we can rid of the FDA don’t you?” except he had the decency to avoid the topic because the other folks at dinner would have looked at me, and the food I was serving, and wondered if I had bought it from some unlicensed Haitian goat farmer in Maryland.
My answer to him then would have been the same it is today – of course I believe we can rid of an agency that not only does nothing, absolutely nothing to provide consumers with greater levels of knowledge about products that the private sector wouldn’t demand, but also serves as a potent shield for drug companies to protect themselves from public outcry. This of course ignores all the problems with FDA bureaucracies slowing the movement of potentially life-saving drugs to the market.
This pattern with Vioxx seems very similar to the Enron scandals of several years ago. The government agencies empowered to “protect” people failed to prevent either of these problems; Congress held very public hearings designed to wash their hands of any responsibility, and the market, not government, ended up punishing the offenders brutally (at least in the case of Enron, and potentially in the case of Merck).
Consumers get plenty of information from sources other than the FDA, an agency that was created out of pure bureaucratic self-interest. Markets provide better, more useful information more quickly. No one in DC has the courage to say it, but we should get rid of the FDA and let individuals get and use the knowledge they need, take the risks they’d like, and deal with the consequences both good and bad.