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The F.D.A. is Not Morally Illegitimate

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ZSorenson
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In another thread I have explained why I think that forced taxation can be moral under the right circumstances, and is therefore not 'immoral'.

Likewise, the F.D.A., a favorite punching-bag for those who favor extremely limited government, is something I will defend as not inherently immoral.

I don't think the Food and Drug Administration is an entierely helpful agency, and wouldn't mind its repeal necessarily, but the existence of such an agency does not contradict the central moral purpose of government.

Fraud is a crime. Knowingly selling a product meant for human consumption, when it is not reasonably expected to cause harm by consumers (excluding, therefore, questions about new drugs where the risks are known by the consumer), that in fact does cause harm, is fraud. Even if the fraud is unintended, there can be reasonable arguments about producer negligence.

Some might argue that it is the consumer's responsibility to buy safe products, that, "They don't have to buy it". I would argue that the same argument basically applies to producers as well: "They don't have to sell it." Nevertheless, if a person is harmed explicitly by another's actions, then the law must apply.

The role of a legislature is to set standards, so that litigation of cases over harm is more efficient and effective at correcting that harm. Thus, fraud is not inherently an issue exclusive to the judiciary.

If a person were to secretly poison milk they were selling, and make many people sick, they would be held accountable post-facto. However, if they poisoned milk, and acted with intention to sell it, and are caught, they are still legally accountable for the same moral crime regardless of no actual harm being caused.

Likewise, it is appropriate for an executive agency to disallow action, or impose fines, based on provable intent to harm through fraud or negligence. In fact, setting up such an agency might be the most efficient way of dealing with this issue.

Consider the police. Police have broad authority to prevent crime, and acting under due process, bring persons into the judicial process only after the initial police intervention.

So, like a police agency, I defend the moral legitimacy of a regulatory agency. However, the agency is only legitimate when it follows due process, and regulates on morally legitimate grounds (no banning drugs because of cost control measures - ick).

It is not today's F.D.A. that I defend. Instead, a food regulatory agency for food safety generally is what I'm defending against those who feel such is morally illegitimate.

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In another thread I have explained why I think that forced taxation can be moral under the right circumstances, and is therefore not 'immoral'.

Likewise, the F.D.A., a favorite punching-bag for those who favor extremely limited government, is something I will defend as not inherently immoral.

I don't think the Food and Drug Administration is an entierely helpful agency, and wouldn't mind its repeal necessarily, but the existence of such an agency does not contradict the central moral purpose of government.

Of course. Once you accept the principle that force is moral, then every other principle will fall and soon Hitler is directing your life. If the central moral purpose of government is to protect rights; and the only way to violate rights is by force; then once you make legal the use of force; all rights are void.

Fraud is a crime.

So from the premise that one may be a criminal you conclude that it is proper for the government to treat everyone as if they are a criminal? That is certainly the way the government acts today and it is a justification to regulate EVERY business.

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Wouldn't private and competing agencies serve as replacement to a body like the FDA?

These 'watchdogs' over quality, safety and efficacy of drugs, etc, would have independent labs which issued a seal of approval on products, which the pharma companies would pay for.

Ultimately, the buyer would still have to beware.

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This is my view on regulation.

I don't think it is an initiation of force to demand that someone comply to certain safety standards while they are around me.

If someone came up to me and started setting up something outside of my house that had the potential to explode, I would demand that I see some sort of credentials. If they didn't check out I would force them out of my vicinity and I think I would be justified in doing so.

So this applies to things like buildings and stuff like that. You can't build a building that has the potential to fall over on other building and crush them, or that has pieces falling off of them and hitting on the sidewalk. This potential is not a slippery slope either, an immediate threat to people's wellbeing is objectively demonstrable.

Claims like "this building is dangerously unstable", "your gas tanks are being properly maintained", and "that pet boa constrictor isn't properly caged" can all be tested and verified. It can also be verified whether or not any regulation directly affects the safey of those around the owner/participant of/in the in question product/activity.

There is also the fraud argument. People don't have the right to decieve others into endangering themselves. So selling someone bread that has mecury in it without them knowing about it is illiegal. So would selling a drug that has dangerous side effects that are known to the producers.

I think it has been established that it is not unreasonable to demand of people that they honestly sell their products and that they do not endanger others, even if it seems what they are doing is only on their property.

The way I see it is that there are two questions here that need to be answered.

1) Does the state have the right to attempt to prevent crime. Can it ask people to behave in a way which denies the possiblity of crime?

On one hand no one wants to actually wait for people to be dead before measures on the part of the state are taken. Wouldn't be better for the state to enter into situations before someone was seriously injured or killed? If a building, person, or product is obviously dangerous why should people wait around for someone to be killed or maimed?

On the other some may fear that giving the state the right to prevent crime opens the door to totalitarianism. If the state can treat people as potential criminals, then to what lengths can they go to prevent us from commiting crimes. I think that many would be afriad that the prevention line of reasoning would lead to innocent people being imprisoned for "dangerous tendancies" or for other dystopian excuses.

2) Can the state actually do this? Some schools of thought, such as Austiran Economics, imply that the state isn't good at anything other than retaliation. In addition to this the fact that regulations, no matter how necessary, do in fact distort the normal workings of the market place. So even if it does prove to be a net benefit to regulate certain prdoucts in terms of protecting lives, products will be produced more slowly and people will have to pay more for regulated goods.

Some may argue that the attempt to prevent crime, no matter how well intentioned is just another economically unviable social engineering scheme that will most likely achieve the opposite of what it's state goals are.

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There are no conceivable situations in which any person or group of persons may have the moral justification to confiscate the products of someone's efforts without their consent that do not involve that someone being at fault for some crime, and in those cases the proper route taken is through the courts. The only proper function of government is the protection of the rights of the individual. The only agencies needed to fulfill this function are the police, the military, and the courts. Any other agency can only act as a regulatory body, and its existence will only be possible through the reallocation of funds from the police, military, and courts, taking away from the governments ability to perform its proper function.

Furthermore, governmental regulatory bodies can not provide any service that the private sector or the police, military, and courts can not provide. Negligent companies whose products harm their customers are punished in court. Diligent companies are rewarded with certifications and approval from agencies that are in direct competition with each other.

Edited by Alexandros
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The FDA has a coercive monopoly on product control and initiates force to authorize which products get put on the market and which do not and what standards producers have to comply with. It is not some noble little anti-fraud department looking out for poisoned milk sold under false pretenses. It does not possess any special knowledge or resources that anyone acting in the market does not have (indeed it only gets its resources from the private sector through confiscation.) It simply gives products to volunteers and watches what it does to them, then directs businessmen to do what they tell them to do. It withholds drugs from the market that can save lives. It is a murderous criminal organization with blood on its (proverbial) hands. It is not morally defensible. It needs to be abolished, yesterday.

If you're going to say the FDA is not morally illegitimate, then claim that you don't actually approve of the FDA, just an imaginary FDA that did what you wanted it to do, that's not really an honest title to the thread. But anyways, I disagree with your vision of a supposedly morally legitimate FDA. No authoritarian regulatory agency is required for product safety, imposing fines on people it decides are not cooperating with its definitions of quality standards. Even if actual harm was caused, the proper way to combat actual fraud is: when someone is harmed, they provide evidence in a court and are compensated by the defendant if successful. Any criminal actions are brought about similarly through a trial in the criminal justice system. Sellers of adulterated products are simply prosecuted for causing harm and/or fraud, not fined by a monopolist regulatory board (which of course is dangerous to set the only standards and can be bribed or "captured.") There is absolutely no reason why producers and consumers who want the option of selling or buying lower quality products at a cheaper price (e.g. if I want to buy from overseas) should be subject to the initiation of physical force.

Edited by 2046
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Do you believe it is moral for the FDA to tell me that I have no right to chose between death, and taking a risky drug that could perhaps save me from dying?

I don't care what I don't know about the drug. I just care that it's an alternative to death. If I was deliberately lied to about the drug, then me or my estate will have a case against him. But if there were simply things about the drug that he didn't tell me, then it's my responsibility to be aware.

Edited by Black Wolf
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I don't care what I don't know about the drug. I just care that it's an alternative to death. If I was deliberately lied to about the drug, then me or my estate will have a case against him. But if there were simply things about the drug that he didn't tell me, then it's my responsibility to be aware.

Withholding information from the buyer which would be material to their decision to purchase should still be considered fraud. I shouldn't have to specifically ask whether or not my food is safe every time I eat in a restaurant.

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Withholding information from the buyer which would be material to their decision to purchase should still be considered fraud. I shouldn't have to specifically ask whether or not my food is safe every time I eat in a restaurant.

This touches on an issue I think should be addressed *before* yanking state controls out on the way to a Laissez Faire Capitalist system... what, precisely, is the line between fraud (a crime, punishable in LFC) and caveat emptor (meaning, you didn't ASK about that so too bad)? In conversations I've had recently (under rushed circumstances so I couldn't press for details), I've run into assertions that "it's obvious." Well, no it isn't.

Clearly an outright lie is fraud, but (to take something that happened to me), what about buying a used car only to find out that the bumper cover wasn't actually attached (just wedged in) because all of the grommets the bolts go through had been ripped out? (This required an $800 dollar replacement part from a body shop.) Is it my fault for not thinking to ask, or their fault for trying to hide the damage? (I am bitter about this or anything like that, I am just using this as an example of a case I think could be argued both ways.)

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Clearly an outright lie is fraud, but (to take something that happened to me), what about buying a used car only to find out that the bumper cover wasn't actually attached (just wedged in) because all of the grommets the bolts go through had been ripped out? (This required an $800 dollar replacement part from a body shop.) Is it my fault for not thinking to ask, or their fault for trying to hide the damage? (I am bitter about this or anything like that, I am just using this as an example of a case I think could be argued both ways.)

In sweden we have a law that basically states that the buyer is responsible for inspecting the goods within his context on knowledge, and the seller is responsible to report any hidden faults that lie within his context of knowledge.

So for example if the floor of the car is completely rusted through but covered in paint, you could argue that you as a layman could not have found this when inspecting the car. The seller, however, should be aware of it and told you about it. I think your case seems similar, it's only a question of how hard it was to find out and if you inspected the car enough. Another scenario could be that you only manage to drive 200 miles before the gearbox is shot. It seemed to work fine when you bought the car, and the seller claims to not have noticed anything strange going on. Also, it's difficult to prove how you have handled the car. On the other hand, the context of knowledge would matter in case you bought the car from a dealership, since car dealerships have mechanics to check the cars.

I think laws like this could be applicable to food and drugs as well.

Let's say you get food poisoning after eating at a restaurant. If it's a case of, they didn't cook the chicken properly, then it's something you should have noticed and complained about. On the other hand, if you can prove that it's caused by their poor handling of the food - which would be hard to notice when it's cooked - you could have a case going(though I suspect it would be difficult to prove). Otherwise, it's just tough luck.

Take another case where a drug company fails to report on potentially severe side effects. Even if you do your research, as you should, you can clearly not be expected to be an expert. They should however be expected to put it through proper trials before selling it, and report any potentially harmfull effects.

Now I don't see this as necessarily being cases of fraud, it could also be negligence.

Edited by Alfa
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It is not today's F.D.A. that I defend. Instead, a food regulatory agency for food safety generally is what I'm defending against those who feel such is morally illegitimate.

So you're only arguing that regulations (with the force of LAW behind them) are legitimate so long as they objectively protect individuals from violations of their rights? It is the Objectivist's position that laws which objectively protect individual rights are legitimate.

So long as the person making this argument correctly understands what rights are, then there can be no disagreement with the above. However, as soon as you argue that one has a "right" to have the number of calories provided to them on every package of Ding Dongs they choose to buy, then you expose yourself as an authoritarian statist with no understanding of what rights are.

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Take another case where a drug company fails to report on potentially severe side effects. Even if you do your research, as you should, you can clearly not be expected to be an expert. They should however be expected to put it through proper trials before selling it, and report any potentially harmfull effects.

Right, which doesn't need to happen through a government regulatory agency. Usually more lax standards means poorer quality goods, but also cheaper goods, so that option may be useful for some people. Of course, it's still useful to have agencies that verify certain standards are met, especially when consumers don't have the time to investigate little details. There are simple things any company can do to reassure customers that reasonable standards have been met. If no standards have been verified, it would be quite stupid to buy the product in question. Similarly, I don't think it matters whether or not you should need to ask if the food you eat is safe. All you need is some paper by the front door that signifies that standards of safety determined by X group have been met. Since it IS a little unreasonable to have a customer ask if your stuff is safe, it is wiser to provide such information in an easy to see place. If I see no paper, it is safer for me to assume the place doesn't store meat properly and I'm guaranteed to get food poisoning. Or I could eat there anyway to get that dirt cheap steak which tastes horrible. As long as potential safety threats are confined to the owner of the restaurant, all is fine.

Goods that involve functionality, such as cars and computers, are a bit different. But the context here is the FDA.

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http://www.ihatethemedia.com/epa-classifies-milk-as-pollutant

This is not the FDA but it is the same kind of regulatory animal in many aspects. Take a look at the history of the FDA. As I like to say, the facts of reality speak for themselves. There are and have been successful ways to solve the problems the FDA is set to resolve.

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Put the FDA under the DoJ where it belongs, and order it to stop making value judgments, thereby limiting its scope and cost to, properly, that of a special expert consulted in the enforcement of the law.

We don't need specific laws or penalties for every industry, and a federal agency to manage it; "fraud is criminal" doesn't need adjectives. Subject matter experts will have to be kept on retainer for the DoJ to do its job; the FDA should be reduced to a subject matter expert, not a policy maker.

- ico

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  • 3 weeks later...

Some topics are not so simple:

It is true that the free market works by weeding out incompetent products and services and fertilizing desirable ones;

for instance, if you buy a T-Shirt that disintegrates after light rain, you're sure never to buy the same brand; and so the T-Shirt or Software industry can become better and bigger faster.

It is also true that when this applies to restaurants or drugs, the process of weeding out incompetent products often involves the death of the consumer.

In a purely contractual society this would be solved by agencies just as the FDA only private and competing for the service of either consumer insurance, or product "safe" branding (like ISO standards, or even Fair Trade BS logos for those who prefer it).

The problem lies when you try to transfor the non purely contractual society into one that is.

The only moral way to achieve a purely contractual society, where Objectivism would have no problem in bein applied to the very depths of reality (law and politics), is in my humble opinion, by creating it.

This society does not need to be constrained by Geography. I will point out the Roma or Gypsies as an example of people behaving witht their own language, laws, and customs, independently from their host countries, just to provide evidence that a floating society can exist.

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