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As Compared to What?: FDA Edition

Here’s a note to Cafe Hayek commenter Thomas Hutcheson, who objects to this “Quotation of the Day” featuring David Henderson:

Defending the FDA’s practice of prohibiting people from using drugs that it disapproves of, you write “With virtually zero information of the risks of millions of drugs and potential drugs, I’m not in a good position to act on my risk preferences.  I’m happy to delegate a large chunk of that to the FDA.”  Your defense of the FDA features at least three errors.

First, as commenter Jon Murphy points out, you in fact do have access to information about these risks.  Supplying you with such information is one function of physicians.  Another source of such information is retail pharmacies, each of which has incentives to learn about the products it sells and to share that information with consumers.  Pharmacies that offer accurate information will not only better protect themselves from lawsuits, they will develop a reputation for supplying accurate information and, thereby, will out-compete those that fall short at this task.

Second, even if your chance of becoming adequately informed about the risks of various drugs is small, the FDA’s chance of becoming adequately informed about your individual risk preferences is zero.  Because the latter piece of information is no less vital than the former to ensure that the medical treatment you receive is appropriate for you, consumers’ ignorance about drug risks is insufficient to justify FDA prohibition.

Third, you have “virtually zero information” on the details of the motives and of the decision-making environments of the politicians who oversee the FDA and of the FDA’s staff.  Remember, these people – nearly all of whom are strangers to you, just as you are a complete stranger to them – have the power not only to determine the fortunes of the producers who must plead for their approval but also to make life-and-death decisions for you and millions of other individuals.  What reason have you to suppose that your lack of information about the risks of being subjected to the diktats of strangers in Washington (all of which you are forced to obey) is less dangerous for you and your family than is your lack of information about the risks of various drugs (none of which you are forced to consume)?