In the 1800s and early 1900s, drugs were unregulated and the market was flooded with patent "medicines" and "miracle cures". These were peddled by legitimate companies as well as hucksters. Many medicines then contained poisons or were totally ineffective. In many ways, consumers became a large "beta test" site for medicine businesses. Some medicines worked OK (morphine) others were utter disasters (radium cures). Many people were hurt by folks selling concoctions that were supposed to be cures when in reality they were poisons (a good piece on this is here: http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2004-08/healthy-glow-drink-radiation).
My question is this: if government is not supposed to meddle with businesses, then is it pretty much OK that medicine companies use the public at large as guinea pigs for what they (perhaps legitimately) believe are new medicines? After all if I can sell a "miracle cure" for arthritis which is composed of inert compounds, past history would indicate I can enjoy quite a bit of financial success before being found out. When discovered, I can claim that I believed that the drug was effective and I honestly thought I was helping and that no one was hurt by it. Even if my drug were shown to be a scam, its hard to see many people getting up the gumption or desire to sue me over some chalk pills. Multiply this small example by a million and you have quite a mess on your hands. In some ways this is what medicine looks like in the completely unregulated parts of the 3rd world: you have to be extremely careful that what you are taking is not fake ( http://www.10news.com/lifestyle/health/fake-drugs-not-just-third-world-problem02222013 ). I see a very deep belief in Objectivist circles that businesses will be rational but over and over the evidence is strongly to the contrary. When given a chance, there are many businesspeople who seek to make a quick buck at the expense of others and exit to a Caribbean island. In the world of finance, their victims can try to find them and sue them. In the case of medicine, their victims are often six feet underground by the time a medicine is shown to be a terrible mistake. Sometimes as in the case of Fen-Phen, people are partly to blame (the drug in question was an off-label miracle cure for obesity) but in others like Thalidomide, patients were totally blameless.
I understand that Objectivists see entities like the FDA holding up miracle cures and miring drug development in red-tape (as thus hurtine people) but I have to balance this with a view into the world before the FDA, when it was the Wild West out there and people would sell almost anything as a miracle cure ( http://www.nycbar.org/library/featured-exhibitions/patent-medicines-and-miracle-cures ). I would like to hear what Objectivists think here? Clearly some corrupt businesspeople, left to their own devices, not only fail to self-regulate but in some instances don't really mind killing off a few consumers to make a quick buck. In the case of selling you defective garbage bags, there's no worries: just buy someone else's garbage bags. Viva marketplace. Vote with your wallet. Let the best product survive. In the case of medicine it's not all that easy: you may end up dead or maimed and your grieving survivors may or may not be capable of a long legal process to redress the ill that has been caused.
How do Objectivists see this? I know that some Objectivists and even Ayn Rand like to hearken to a glorious time when Capitalism almost happened in the mid-1800s but for me, in the area of drugs & food there's little "good" about these "good old days". I'd love to hear how Objectivists see an uncompromising view of regulation (separation of economy and state) with the clear benefits such regulation has brought to the lives of so many? I know there's a bit of Bastiat's argument here: who's to say what amazing drugs would have been created had the FDA not existed but we need to balance this with a sense of history and ask how many more human lives would have been ended or cut short because of ineffective/dangerous medicines?
asked Jan 26 '14 at 12:05
The Objectivist view of government-controlled healthcare and/or government-controlled of medicines is well known and has been stated repeatedly, going all the way back to a brief statement by Dr. Hendricks in Atlas Shrugged, reprinted in FNI under the title, "The Forgotten Man of Socialized Medicine." Basically, such government control is pure altruism -- the view that the producers and providers exist to serve others, that the others have a claim on the producers' lives, and that the producers are to be sacrificed for the benefit of the consumers. Such control also violates the individual rights of the producers and providers, and of the many consumers who strive to be rational, to evaluate what the producers claim about the benefits of a particular therapy, to judge the reputability and rationality of the producers and providers, and to pay for the services rendered, if the consumers have the means to pay, as a great many do. Even more of them would have the financial means under full laissez-faire capitalism.
In accord with altruism, the question seems to assume that economic activity is owned by the society and exists only to be disposed of by the society as the "society" somehow determines to be expedient, for the benefit of the "consumers," especially the weaker, more irrational consumers who are deemed unable to judge anything for themselves and/or unable to pay for it. A society has no moral right to order producers and providers not to offer anything for sale without government permission, or to sell only at prices approved by the government, or to decree that consumers who are willing to judge and pay for services themselves shall not be allowed to do so.
For additional information for those who are interested, here are some illuminating references:
When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.
The next excerpt, from CUI Chap. 1, explains:
The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.
The guiding purpose of the government regulator is to prevent rather than to create something. He gets no credit if a new miraculous drug is discovered by drug company scientists; he does if he bans thalidomide. Such emphasis on the negative sets the framework under which even the most conscientious regulators must operate. The result is a growing body of restrictive legislation on drug experimentation, testing, and distribution. As in all research, it is impossible to add restrictions to the development of new drugs without simultaneously cutting off the secondary rewards of such research -- the improvement of existing drugs. Quality improvement and innovation are inseparable.
There is a further premise in the appeals to altruism and governmental abrogation of individual rights that warrants an additional response. Some observers who regard themselves as "weak" and/or "downtrodden" may openly seek government control of producers so that they, the weak and downtrodden, can be better off than their own productive effort, initiative and ability would enable in a fully free market. They may believe they are only seeking to raise themselves up to the level of the others, but it won't work. All they will accomplish is to drag everyone else down to their level (and probably lower, as the economy becomes progressively weaker). If they understand that and still want it anyway, they are acting on the motive of "hatred of the good for being good." They are pursuing a course of pure destruction in the name of "equality." In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand has shown producers and rational consumers everywhere how to answer such destructiveness: "shrug," i.e., don't support their destroyers, especially stop granting them a moral sanction. What the economic equality seekers are doing is no moral ideal; it is the exact opposite.
answered Jan 27 '14 at 22:26
Ideas for Life ♦