Bullying Isn't the Half of It

Thursday, March 27, 2014

John Stossel, along the way to making a "seen-and-unseen" type of analysis of the machinations of the FDA, reminds us of the actual nature of one of its past "successes":

The FDA's first big success was stopping thalidomide, a drug that prevented the nausea of morning sickness. It was approved first in Europe, where some mothers who took it proceeded to give birth to children with no arms and legs.

The FDA didn't discover the problems with thalidomide. It was just slow. The drug application was stuck in the FDA's bureaucracy. But being slow prevented birth defects in America.

It taught politicians and bureaucracy that slower is better. [bold added]
The episode has also helped people forget that market forces would have stopped Thalidomide. Who would want to use a drug that causes birth defects? What company would imagine that selling such a drug constitutes a viable business? Going forward, what company would fail to test other drugs against such horrific side effects? The episode, as Stossel also ably indicates, has doubtless helped kill numerous medical advances on the vine by lending false credibility to the FDA's meddling.

Stossel notes further that Americans are becoming used to being bullied by government officials. That much is true, but I'd add that "successes" such as the above also are lending undeserved surface credibility to destructive precautionary thinking.

I recommend the piece with one major reservation: Stossel speaks of the government going "way beyond" a list of what he regards as the functions of a proper government. (I agree with this, except for "environmental rules" and a too-limited summary of the role of courts.) The government that (properly) protects individuals so that they can live according to their best judgement differs in kind (although not necessarily in size) from one that orders people around. It is instructive that the latter type of government is ineffective at bettering our lives, but it is also wrong for the government to behave like a gang of criminals, benevolent or not.

-- CAV

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