Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One Size Kills All

From Citizens for Health I learned that there is a new health-related bill that poses yet another significant threat to our lives, The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010 (S. 3002). If passed this bill could financially destroy brands of supplementation and cause others to be prohibited by law, decrease the effectiveness of some products by prohibiting certain ingredients, make it more difficult to find useful information by requiring the companies to document non-essential information, and increase prices by imposing new operating costs. A nutritional company named Life Extension offers some very insightful anecdotal evidence about how the FDA abused its authority in the 80's by forcibly taking their supplements:

I was in a Walgreens last week picking up some pictures, when a recorded voice came on to the store’s speaker system announcing the heart healthy benefits of fish oil and CoQ10.

This brought a flashback to the year 1987 when FDA agents stormed Life Extension’s premises and seized these supplements, along with a brochure that described how they could help protect against heart attack.

Accompanied by armed US marshals, I vividly recall FDA agents ridiculing me about the concept that fish oil had any relationship to cardiac disorders. The sad fact in this story is the millions of heart attacks suffered by Americans because the FDA had the power for so long to censor the truth about omega-3 supplements. [Underlines changed to italics.]

Read it all.

This reminds me of John David Lewis' article about little dictators, about how laws like the one above create people who act like miniature dictators since they have the means to exercise government coercion and thus can enact their whims at will. If the above bill becomes law, not only will we suffer the practical consequences I listed but many more little dictators will also be born and unleashed into the world, causing further suffering.

And aside from all of the above, this also allows us to see the consequences of a moral-economic principle: the suffering that is caused when it is believed to be morally proper for the government to force everyone in the nation to comply with the judgment of a few bureaucrats.

In one of my earliest essays, The Sisyphean Judgment of Politicians, I detailed why politicians are doomed to failure as a matter of principle when they try to force their judgments on their constituents. Most essentially we must remember that politicians are specialized in the enactment and enforcement of law, not in nutritional study, environmental science, economic policies, and so on. Since they are not properly specialized for the tasks they undertake it follows that they cannot be expected to make specialized decisions properly. When a bureaucrat does make a practical decision in these fields we can view it literally as a matter of luck, as the odds heavily favor that they're taking on more than their skills can handle.

Because of our bureaucrats' lack of specialization and their forcing their judgment upon everyone, everyone suffers as a result when their judgment happens to be wrong. As Life Extension pointed out, millions of people may have suffered from heart disease because the bureaucrats in the FDA had the power to seize omega-3 supplements, thereby forcibly preventing consenting costumers from purchasing a product that would preserve their health, maybe even save their life. In a free economy the situation would be different: the failure of one man would serve as knowledge for other men on what not to do, and the totality of the nation would not have to suffer for the misjudgment of a few.

The danger of blanket judgments will only increase if the above act is passed, as the consequences of giving the FDA more power will be to make supplements more expensive, less effective, and less available nation-wide. The justification for the bill is that it will help make it so that only safe supplements will be available, but do we really want to the entire nation to be follow only a single standard of safety chosen by a few bureaucrats? We must reject this on moral and practical grounds, that we have a right to cooperate with each other as we deem profitable, without coercive interference, and that no politician can properly make the decisions for us.

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