This piece was originally posted by LP Georgia member Greg Morin at his blog, Porcupine Musings.
Monopolies are bad. The supposed truth of that axiom is nearly universally accepted. Government demonstrates its adherence to this precept through such devices as anti-trust legislation. Curiously though, government itself is the biggest monopolist like entity. I say “monopolist like” because even the so-called monopolies of Standard Oil or AT&T could not force people to purchase their goods via legally imposed violent coercion. Government is monopoly at the barrel of a gun. So, if the truism that monopolies are bad is generally accepted, why is the public so willing to blithely accept the monopolist enterprises the government imposes on us? For some reason the public holds those in government to be members of a class of altruistic super humans that think only upon the betterment of society and never upon themselves, that they are selfless servants of their fellow man (angels?). To quote John Stossel, “Give me a break!” Those in government are humans, just like us, with the same weaknesses, foibles and strengths (witness the recent GSA convention debacle). They are not magically transformed upon taking an oath of office or employment within the government. To persist in such a belief is as delusional as believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.
If all humans are the same, whether they are employed in “public” monopolies or private firms why do private firms consistently deliver better, more effective, more efficient and less expensive results? Competition. When private firms compete the ones that deliver what the customer wants survive, and the ones that can’t deliver do not. So when there are calls for less regulation or elimination of the FDA or EPA do not confuse that with a desire for actually no checks on safety and efficacy. Rather it is a call for a free and open market based regulation. In order to have such a free regulatory system, entities like the FDA and EPA must be stripped of their legal government backed authority so that all may engage in fair competition. The reason there are currently no other “FDA” like entities is that there is no incentive to start such a business. Why do so if your customers must use your competition? Without legal stricture, firms addressing the role the FDA plays in the market (insurance risk mitigation) would arise (just as Underwriters Laboratory did for electronics).
For example, if a company wants to produce drugs it may do so without any insurance or oversight. Those drugs would be quite inexpensive. Purchasers of those drugs would be trading an increased risk of deleterious effects for a lower price. The company is trading its competitive advantage of low price for the increased risk that it will be put out of business by the first lawsuit from an injured customer. So virtually all such firms would purchase insurance. Insurance companies, thus having an incentive to not pay out claims, would require their insured to be inspected (regulated) by any of a number of private drug regulators. Those drug regulators would likewise be legally liable, so they too (unlike the current FDA which has no accountability) would be highly motivated to do a good job. Those private regulators that are effective would grow due to their good reputation; those that do a poor job would disappear due to their poor reputation (and lawsuits). The FDA does a poor job but there is no mechanism to drive it out of business… they get more money when they do a bad job. Drug makers and insurers would preferentially use the regulators that approve and examine drugs quickly and effectively. So rather than waiting 10 years for a lifesaving drug we might only need to wait 1-2 years. Not only does this save lives but it dramatically lowers cost. The FDA is likely responsible for more deaths by the drugs it has kept off the market for too long then the bad drugs it let slip through. That is the unseen harm of government mandated legalized monopolies.
The market will never be perfect because it is composed of imperfect humans, but competition allows society to shed those imperfections, not some utopian concept of the selfless government servant who can do no wrong.