Last week’s edition of this column discussed the areas of water and air pollution, where we probably need the government’s involvement for the health and safety of the general public. But there is another area where most people believe we need government involvement which actually could be much better addressed by the private sector. This is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Taken from its website, its formal mandate is to be responsible for “protecting and promoting public health through the control and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation emitting devices, cosmetics, animal foods & feed and veterinary products.” But in so many ways the FDA actually works against the public’s health and safety.
It is generally agreed that it costs hundreds of millions of dollars for a company to receive an FDA certification for any new products, whether they be pharmaceutical, medical devices or otherwise. That means that only products that will potentially generate large amounts of income will be pursued. This in turn means that products that would be of large benefit to small numbers of people or small benefit to large numbers of people will likely be lost because they simply don’t pencil out. In addition, the FDA’s involvement adds many years onto the certification process, which means that some people could die or needlessly suffer because of the delay. Why does it cost so much and take so long? Because the FDA is a vast bureaucracy in which there are multiple incentives for a bureaucrat not to make a decision. For example, if an FDA official certifies ten products, and nine of them are successful in saving lives and alleviating pain, etc., but one of them causes upset stomachs or headaches, figuratively that person’s head will roll. Instead, a private company, such as Underwriter’s Laboratories, could step in and both speed up the process, alleviate suffering and cost much less. Why? Because there would be competition among various private companies to do a timely and effective job. And there still would be accountability, because if the company certified a product that did not perform as advertised, both that manufacturer and certifying company could be successfully sued. Unlike with air and water pollution, it would be clear who the manufacturer and certifier were, so they could be held responsible for their products and representations. So once again, in this area, as well as almost all others, Liberty results in better outcomes than Big Government.
Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President,
along with Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President
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