America’s Other Drug Problem

There’s no reason to think that a government agency would be better at picking pharmaceutical winners and losers than a private company that has its own money on the line and is motivated to earn a profit. Rather than creating yet another bureaucracy to “encourage” the development of drugs the government deems worthy, the government should consider a radical alternative. It should reduce the regulatory burdens on the pharmaceutical industry by phasing out -- and eventually abolishing -- the FDA.

John Stossel and others have explained how abolishing the FDA and allowing private rating agencies to monitor the safety and effectiveness of drugs would better protect consumers against unsafe products.

Private ratings agencies already work superbly in other industries. The private Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tests and approves numerous products ranging from hair dryers to Christmas lights to bulletproof glass. Manufacturers gladly pay for their testing and certification because many retailers won’t stock products without the UL seal of approval.

Similarly, the Snell Memorial Foundation (SMF) performs similar testing and certification of safety helmets. As John Graham of the Pacific Research Institute writes [pdf]:

Many people engaged in activities for which helmets are an important safety feature, such as mountain biking, value the SMF certification, and this motivates manufacturers to submit their helmets for testing at their own cost although there is no legal requirement to do so.

The SMF limits itself to the business of researching and testing the effectiveness of helmets. It does not advocate for mandatory helmet laws and has never lobbied on any pertinent legislation.

The government does have a legitimate role in protecting Americans from force or fraud. Hence, if a drug company sells unsafe products under false pretenses, it can and should be punished. But otherwise, doctors and patients should be left free to exercise their own best rational judgment whether or not to use a drug based on the manufacturer’s truthfully reported test results (and the tests of independent rating agencies they trust).

In a free market, businesses prosper by selling products of value to their customers -- not by killing those customers. The self-interest of patients and doctors seeking the best value for themselves in a highly competitive marketplace -- and the self-interest of drug companies and independent rating agencies whose reputations are at stake -- will be far more effective in protecting patient safety than a government bureaucrat punching a clock somewhere in Washington, D.C.

Abolishing the FDA would allow honest drug makers to produce (and doctors and patients to use) drugs according to their own best judgment free from government interference -- as is their right. In such a free market, the result would be cheaper, more numerous, and more plentiful drugs.

Recall the words of Ayn Rand:

government “help” to business is just as disastrous as government persecution, and that the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.  (“Leave Us Alone,” Chapter 13, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)

Nowhere is this more true than in the pharmaceutical industry. Rather than government “help” in the form of a new federal agency — or further government hindrance in the form of the FDA — the government should simply get out of the way. If we eliminate the government interference that prevents valuable new drugs from reaching patients, we could save countless lives. And a few years from now, if you get sick and you need a powerful new antibiotic that is currently just a promising idea scribbled in a bright young scientist’s laboratory notebook, one of those lives saved might be your own.