by Russ Roberts on May 21, 2007

in Regulation

Paul Krugman ($) (HT: Jim Morse) blames the recent E. Coli outbreak on Milton Friedman:

These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there
may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and
melamine in your pet’s food and, because it was in the feed, in your
chicken sandwich.

Who’s responsible for the new fear of eating?
Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some
blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman.

How’s that? It’s simple. The Bush Administration is in thrall to the free market principles of Friedman:

Without question, America’s food safety system has degenerated over
the past six years. We don’t know how many times concerns raised by
F.D.A. employees were ignored or soft-pedaled by their superiors. What
we do know is that since 2001 the F.D.A. has introduced no significant
new food safety regulations except those mandated by Congress.

isn’t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush
administration won’t issue food safety regulations even when the
private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce
Association says that the industry’s problems “can’t be solved without
strong mandatory federal regulations”: without such regulations,
scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors
more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration
refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines.

Why would
the administration refuse to regulate an industry that actually wants
to be regulated? Officials may fear that they would create a precedent
for public-interest regulation of other industries. But they are also
influenced by an ideology that says business should never be regulated,
no matter what.

The economic case for having the government
enforce rules on food safety seems overwhelming. Consumers have no way
of knowing whether the food they eat is contaminated, and in this case
what you don’t know can hurt or even kill you. But there are some
people who refuse to accept that case, because it’s ideologically

That’s why I blame the food safety crisis on
Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the
drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous
or ineffective drugs? “It’s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical
companies not to have these bad things,” he insisted in a 1999
interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food
safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you
can always trust the private sector to police itself.

So here’s Krugman’s logic.

A. The food supply is less safe

B. The Bush Admiinistration has issued no new regulations

C. The Bush Administration must be following Friedman’s logic

I guess this is good news for us free-market types. Any day now, the Bush Administration will be getting rid of farm subsidies and all other corporate welfare that Friedman opposed. They’ll stop negotiating trade agreements and unilaterally lower all tariffs and quotas. And they’ll reduce government spending instead of spending a record high amount of money. They’ll make all drugs legal. Yessireee. This administration loves Milton Friedman. The signs are every where.

What kind of chutzpah does it take to  blame Milton Friedman for the failure of a govenrment agency to do its job well? The illogic is breathtaking. So what’s Krugman’s game?  I think he figures that people hate Bush so much, if he can only get those same people to associate Bush with free markets, he can get people to hate free markets.

The other part I like is the implication that until the evil free market Bush administration got in power,  we had a safe food supply.

FYI, Paul, there were major E. coli outbreaks in the US in  1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999. There was also one in January and February of 1993, but I won’t count that one. I’ll blame that one on the Friedman-influenced Bush the First.

In 1996, there were major outbreaks in the Friedman-dominated free market anarchist utopias of Germany, Scotland and Japan.


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