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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/2278/are-food-makers-indifferent-to-death-by-allergy/

Are Food Makers Indifferent to Death by Allergy?

July 24, 2004 by

Congress just passed another regulatory bill, because people with food allergies are under the impression that food sellers are indifferent to whether they live or die. Lew Rockwell debunks the claim, and explains how the market economy is more suited to regulating product labeling than government. Only the large manufacturers, who supported the labeling legislation, disagree. [Full Article]


Dennis Fletcher July 24, 2004 at 8:06 am

It seems the mantra used by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr is “the market needs no regulation”.

This view, while perhaps pleasant to ideologues like Rockwell, is simply false.

The free market needs regulation because profit, by itself, will not protect consumers or labor.

Even if it did, it only does so reactively and only in the very long term. No, it does not do it proactively. Need I remind you of the tobacco industry’s hiding of information it had regarding the addictive nature of nicotine? They were certainly proactively protecting their profits.

And I remember India and the Union Carbide debacle. Where was the market then? It was right there, preying on the Indians who needed the jobs to the extent the Indian government invited Union Carbide to carry on unsafely.

And I’m sure the oil industry is much more careful about letting its oil tanker captains drink on the job, but does that do Alaska’s coastline any good?

These are just three examples of profit self-regulation. Libraries could be filled with accounts of other examples.

Market forces only work to regulate business practices in the la-la land where the actors (consumers, labor, governments) are all of equal strength. Here on planet earth we should and do make industry accountable.

That’s the cost of doing business in a free society. Get over it, Mr. Rockwell.

Benjamin Marks July 24, 2004 at 8:34 am

Dennis, “get over yourself”. The view that a protection racket can protect an individual better than the market, “while pleasant to ideologues like yourself is simply false.”

There are two main problems with government having a monopoly of jurisdiction (as you imply is necessary). (1) Monopolistic services tend to decrease in quality and increase in cost and (2) if government has the monopoly, then who will protect you from the government?

Mises.org has a bucketload of articles on this, for example see http://mises.org/journals/scholar/Hoppe.pdf(Link) “Libraries could be [and are, at mises.org for example] filled with [logic refuting your thoughts].”

Caley McKibbin July 24, 2004 at 1:11 pm

The government is an enterprise, as is MacDonalds and and Burger King, that operates on the basis of success in force of arms, rather than appeal of quality. Explain the reasoning that leads to the conclusion that this particular enterprise is likely to “protect” you from others more than vice versa.

Doug Smith July 24, 2004 at 1:50 pm


Your Exxon and Union Carbide examples both are chock full of government externalities. First, the very maintenance of the corporate form is a government subsidy. Second, with the Exxon Valdez, waterways and their eco-systems are public, and hence subject to the tragedy of the commons.

You yourself note the government externality in the Bhopal disaster.

I’m afraid that’s the real world of government regulation.

Braden July 24, 2004 at 1:51 pm

Dennis Fletcher,

Your own examples prove that the market does in fact correct its mistakes.

Union Carbide was the result of sabotage not of evil corporations trying to make a quick buck. Never the less the market punished UC and after the incident it was diminished to almost nothing and sold to DOW.

The terrible decisions of one oil tanker captain have changed the entire practice. However, the all knowing government did not force the oil company to provide all the clean up costs (where as in the free market they would). To this day Exxon is looked at poorly by the market.

As for tobacco its hard for me to make any comments on an industry that survives on government farm subsidies.

So in short you take three examples, all of which emphasize nothing about the market, and generalize that the market fails. Not very sound logic.

Dr. Moe July 25, 2004 at 5:14 am

Hey Lew, I hope you’re reading this. Anyway, I’ve been reading your site for a couple years. Although I do not agree with much of what you write, I find your site a valuable way to get news that isn’t the Pravda-ized crap CNN and Fox spew all day and night. However, this time you’ve actually crossed a line and I feel that I have to call you on what you’re saying.

Your libertarian principles are consistent – they do make sense together, they are logically clean – however, when dealing with matters of principle it is important that you remember both what your means are, and what your desired end is. Libertarianism as a means to peace, prosperity, and freedom merits some consideration as a philosophical system. Should libertarianism make us all rich and happy, I’m for it, and I could even see value in people dying over it. Why not, in a world where everyone is born to die anyway? But if all libertarianism does is make us more libertarian, if it does not produce a better outcome for most people (not just a few), then it is only a religion and I don’t believe anyone should lay down their life for it – doing so would be a misguided act – and I don’t believe that anyone should lay down another’s life for it – that would be cold-blooded, idolatrous murder.

A few years ago, I was a research student at the University of Michigan when a fellow researcher died of peanut allergy. I did not really know him personally, but I knew people who did, and I assure you that they were quite broken up about it. It seems that this man – mid-twenties in age, in good health other than his peanut allergy – ate a packaged chicken pot pie one night at his apartment. He’d eaten this sort of pie many times in the past, and his apartment was stocked with these products. Nuts were not listed on the ingredients list at all. However, after this meal he began to feel a tightness in his throat. As anyone aware of a food allergy would, he immediately administered prophylactic medication and called 911. The ambulance arrived soon. Over the next half-hour, this man slowly strangled to death. By the time that the medics had forced a breathing tube through his swollen airway, his brain activity was so low that there really wasn’t any point actually using it. A forensic assay later revealed the fatal, partially-finished pie to contain peanuts, despite the lack of labeling or listing of peanuts as an ingredient.

You attempt to score rhetorical points by saying that people would otherwise “choke on a crumb”, and by mentioning an incident where an allergy sufferer falsely believed that he may have consumed something he shouldn’t have – you’re skating almost to the edge of saying that this sort of thing doesn’t really happen, although you’re careful enough not to actually go there and deny the existence of fatal food allergy. Well, it does happen – and you know it, because you didn’t actually go to the full extreme of denial – and you should be ashamed of your rhetoric here. These are human lives here, value them however you may they are still worth something. And if you want the guy’s name, I can get it to you – provided that you promise to go visit his mother and share your witty remarks about choking on crumbs, I think she might totally run out and join the Libertarian Party because of that.

You make many of your usual points in this article. First of all, you claim that the market is already handling the situation perfectly well! However, it seems to me that when things like this happen despite the wonders of the market, it’s obvious that the market is not already handling it in a manner that prevents such deaths from undisclosed allergens. What the market is actually doing is giving you a product that is just safe enough that the expected lawsuit settlements plus any loss of revenues from bad publicity are less than the cost of additional safety precautions – as this is the most profitable outcome for the manufacturer. This is what the market does, and expecting it to do anything else is contradictory to all understanding of sound business.

Given this model, how might we expect the death count to be reduced? Either bigger lawsuits or more bad press, that’s what it would take. Bigger lawsuits? But that’s not libertarian, is it – I thought you were totally for “tort reform”, which seems to me like a fancy way of saying that people do not have to be responsible for their torts anymore. More bad press? Sure. But allergy sufferers are a small minority of the population – should a company kill an allergy sufferer due to negligent inclusion of unlisted substances in their product, most people will not pay any attention. Why should they? They’re not at any real risk of death from careless admixture of potential allergens! Only the few who actually have the allergy would care, and their purchasing power is negligible as they are a very small group of potential customers. Therefore, libertarian free markets are utterly incapable of causing existing food producers to improve the safety of their products to allergy sufferers. The way it is now is the way it will continue to be. In fact, were “tort reform” enacted, we could expect our newly-freer market to produce even more processed foods containing undisclosed ingredients in the future – that’s just good business, maximum profit.

You also propose that the market will, if left to it’s own devices, produce companies which cater to the needs of food allergy sufferers. However, you also point out that this phenomenon of food allergy has been known to exist for quite some time – that publicity has been created by governmental and other actors – well, why didn’t the market already do this? Obviously the market is not sufficient to fill this need given the current economic and social situation. It’s hard enough buying kosher food in a lot of areas – but Jews are 2% of the population of the United States, and life-threatening peanut allergy is much rarer than Judiasm.

Obviously if this labeling initiative could be accomplished for absolutely no cost on the part of the manufacturer, you wouldn’t be so outspoken against this regulation bill! And you do, indeed, claim that this regulation is a crushing bureaucratic burden. However, you also claim that food purity is something that small companies can easily handle – and bring up the example of food producers catering to minority religions with associated food purity laws. So perhaps you’re claiming that it would be a crushing burden to demand that a large assembly-line food production apparatus be kept clean of peanut dust when producing food that is sold as not containing peanuts – but saying that a small religious company with a simpler kitchen could more easily keep track of just what ingredients have been used in each cooking vessel. That sounds reasonable to me, I could believe that. It’s true that even an Orthodox child knows the difference between a pot for meat and a pot for dairy and follows the rules quite easily. Yet you also claim that this crushing burden of regulation would stifle small food producing companies while leaving large companies unaffected – isn’t that a complete contradiction to your previous point?

Your vagueness about just how costly these regulations would be to implement and to whom seems to indicate that you really don’t care about any sort of cost-benefit analysis here. Whether it costs pennies, millipennies, micropennies, nanopennies per unit, it doesn’t matter – regulation is bad. Libertarianism says regulation is bad, therefore whatever it costs to stop killing allergy sufferers is too much if it’s implemented by government regulation. Yet I think you need to take a more balanced view, you need to consider whether it might not, in the end, be worth it to force companies to list ingredients accurately in order to save lives. Perhaps it isn’t worth millions or billions to save an occasional human life – but you must admit, a human life is worth something. If you don’t admit that, then your philosophy is not about allowing the market to produce the best possible outcome – it’s about the market in and of itself, regardless of whether it makes society worse off overall. This makes it a religion – and the dead allergy sufferers into sacrifices. We may differ on this – but I call that evil.

Brad July 25, 2004 at 6:40 am

1. It is known by the government that it is virtually impossible for any mass producer of prepared foods to control all of the ingredients all of the time. Hence, there are laws on the federal books allowing certain quantities of rat hair, cockroach parts, etc. to be in the food but not disclosed. It is simply a fact of life that there will occasionally be undisclosed ingredients in prepared foods; the only way to protect every allergy sufferer from occasionally ingesting an undisclosed ingredient is to ban the production and sale of prepared foods. This is a simple fact of life. It is not a matter of negligence. I can guarantee you that, given our litigious society, the food producer has been practicing due diligence for years.

2. Those food producers and purchasers who rely on private inspections–e.g., the kosher industry, which relies on rabbis–have a better record than those who rely on government inspections.

3. Without checking the numbers, I can guarantee you that more people are killed by government-mandated vaccinations than by undisclosed ingredients in prepared foods. With regard to food allergies, vaccinations, acid rain, etc., the government has already weighed the number of expected deaths against the overall social/economic benefit of everything out there, and decided how many innocent deaths it will accept for the benefit it foresees. I’d think it’d make more sense to allow parents to discuss vaccinations with their doctors, but the government disagrees. Government is clearly not the answer.

4. I am saddened by the death of your friend. But if I had a life-threatening food allergy, I wouldn’t eat prepared foods. The ONLY way, in any nation and at any time now or in the future, for someone like your late friend to avoid peanuts is to eat only fresh foods. Fresh meats and vegetables that you select, wash, and prepare yourself will not have peanuts in them. Life is full of hard facts, and one of them is that your friend did not practice due diligence in protecting himself.

Colin Colenso July 25, 2004 at 7:50 am

It shouldn’t be the responsibility of producers to provide guarantees of satisfaction to all consumer needs. It certainly should not be the job of government to enforce them to do so either.

To use a reductio absurdum; if 1 person in the world is allergic to the breath of other people, should the government force all people to wear breath filtration devices.

In the case of your friend who died of peanut poisoning, he should not have been so naive to trust the government enforced regulation of product labeling to be a 100% guarantee. Buyer beware and self-responsibilty is necessary.

Producers cannot be efficient if they must please all consumers all the time no matter how peculiar their needs be. If government regulation tries to achieve this, it will lead to the complete destruction of the capitalist economy.

Dr. Moe July 25, 2004 at 7:54 am

To Brad:

Although I was rebutting specific points of Lew’s article, you have brought up other arguments against my point of view which do not directly relate to the points I was debating. This is fair, but I do want to note that, when addressing your post, I’m no longer really talking about the article itself, as your opinions do not seem to exactly agree with what Lew has proposed.

Your points (1) and (4) are almost the same, and amount to the same thing – that no mass producer of food can keep random things out of the food. That is nonsense. For example, a very small amount of botulism toxin can easily kill. I still expect that there won’t be any in the food. And although certain amounts of rat hair and cockroach bodies are allowed in food, this is precisely because rat hair and cockroaches, while disgusting, are not deadly. The semifamous Usenet humorist Kibo had a nice routine about canola and how there were no more than “two cow craps in every bag”, and something that was “definitely not glass” – in other words, “animal filth” is allowed in canola, but absolutely no glass is permitted. Makes sense – would you rather eat a small amount of cow poop, or a nice sharp piece of glass? I’d take the poop. Glass is not allowed in food, period. And yet the many companies that produce food in glass containers, in factories where the occasional bit of broken glass happens, somehow manage to keep it out of the food.

At this time, I’d like to mention that your points (1) and (4) directly disagree with Lew’s article. Lew seems to believe that the magic of an unregulated laissez-faire market will produce companies which manufacture food that is safe to people with food allergies. Why do you, unlike Lew, imagine this impossible? After all, if this student had done as you’d suggested and cooked all his own food, he wouldn’t have been doing anything that a mass production facility couldn’t have done on a larger scale. Or are you admitting that, while technically possible, a free market would not allow such safe food preparation to be profitably done? If so, maybe liberalism isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Your point (2) doesn’t show that the government inspections are inherently worse than private inspections. It merely underscores the importance of redundancy. Although Bush (no free-marketeer himself) often sings the praises of faith-based programs, the fact is that rabbinical inspection does not satisfy FDA requirements. Kosher food is inspected, not once, but twice. Once by the government, once by the rabbis. Two sets of eyes are naturally better than one. The proper conclusion here is that more inspections of food could improve safety, that we haven’t hit the point of diminishing returns yet – but you can’t really show that it matters who exactly is doing them, so long as they are competant.

Your point (3) isn’t a very close analogy to food regulation. There is a cost-benefit analysis of vaccinations, a very real trade of lives for lives. Many vaccines are known to kill or disable a certain portion of the patients who take them. Furthermore, many vaccines do not necessarily protect the patient! In some cases, only a fraction of the vaccinated patients are rendered fully immune to the disease. So the vaccine can sure seem like a bad deal to an individual, especially considering that the disease in question might be rather rare. However, all a vaccine has to do to be considered effective, in a public health sense, is to reduce the average transmission rate of a disease to below 1. If one infected person, on average, infects 3 more, or 2 more, or even 1.1 more, you have an epidemic. But if each infected person only infects 0.9 others, on average, there will be no epidemic. Any breakout of the disease will fizzle out, and the population as a whole is safer because of this. It’s a tragedy of the commons – you don’t get the vaccine for your kids, neither does your neighbor, now it’s a trend and nobody gets it – and when that transmission rate flickers above 1.0, suddenly there’s an epidemic and all the kids have polio just like that.

There’s no similar tradeoff in food safety, at least none that Lew or anyone here has made clear to me. If I had a child who was seriously crippled by a vaccine, I’d be very angry – who wouldn’t? – but at the least I’d know that this was part of an effort to make sure that millions of children didn’t get crippled by polio. Now what’s the benefit here which counterbalances this man who died from eating a product which wasn’t supposed to contain peanuts, but did? Did I pay 25 cents less in last years grocery bills, because the manufacturers saved the ink that would otherwise be used to write “produced with machinery that may contain peanut residue” on certain packages? Did I save a whole shiny penny? Even that? Now let me make up some numbers – if 300 million Americans saved a penny each on groceries, and if this man’s family won a $1 million judgement for his wrongful death (I’m not sure if they even sued at all), is the country $2 million better off? Had we tort reform, would the country be $2.8 million better off? Just something to think about.

Doug Smith July 25, 2004 at 9:37 am

Dr. Moe,

You raise a tired old straw man against libertarianism: that it is a utopian doctrine which it’s proponents claim will make us all rich and happy. No such claim has ever been made. There will still be poverty and disease and bad people in a libertarian regime. Libertarianism does not proceed from the premise that it will make everybody happy. Rather, it proceeds from the premise that individuals have a right to their property, and it is immoral and uneconomic to interfere with that right.

Regarding the tragic death of your friend, what you effectively propose is socialization of risk: government should mandate that everyone, not just the tiny percentage of people with fatal peanut allergy, should bear the cost of scrupulous food preparation and detailed ingredient labels. Since I don’t have a peanut allergy, I would prefer not to bear those costs, but with government mandates I am deprived of any choice in the matter.

brad July 25, 2004 at 10:46 am

Dear Dr. Moe:

I’m not going to address all your claims, as we’re reaching diminishing returns. But as one example that you’re getting off point–my claims do not disagree with Lew or with libertarianism. Lew did not claim that libertarianism would reduce all risk to zero. I’m not either. We’re saying regulation will (a) not solve the problem as well as the market, and (b) regulation will produce harmful side effects the market won’t. One more: Botulinum toxin is killed by boiling. Anybody can boil. Broken glass doesn’t get into food because glass factories are separate facilities from food processing plants. At the same time, I’m sure there’s some broken glass, and some botulinum toxin, that get into the food supply. And there’s plenty of food from one process that makes it into another process, because the processing happens on the same equipment.

At bottom, (a) everybody ought to eat fresh food, (b) everyone, including those of us with no allergies, takes a risk when allowing someone else to prepare food, and (c) government safety programs ARE inherently worse than private ones. See my archive on LRC for specific examples, and see Murray Rothbard and everybody else on mises.org for why government provision of anything is inherently inferior to market provision.

Mark Thornton July 25, 2004 at 10:49 am

People have raised some valid objections to Dr. Moe’s post, but I really think that Rockwell answered Moe’s criticism in the opening paragraph’s of his article. Those who defraud or injure others in a free society will be made to pay the injured party. Government has a very bad record bringing those who harm others to justice, while the market has a good record. Government has a very bad record in seeing that criminals provide compensation to the injured. Government regulation not only makes us less free, it makes us less safe and poorer. I can’t think of a single government regulation that has made us safer, expect possibly those that it adopted from the market like building codes. Dr. Higgs’s book on the FDA is a good case in point.

I understand that Dr. Moe has an emotional investment in this issue and I do sympathize with him, but emotional attachments are most misleading when you are analyzing or debating public policy. Government thrives on fear and emotion. We all need to avoid analysis and debate where we are strongly influenced by our emotions and personal attachments. The battle against government and the defense of liberty is too important.

Lucretius July 25, 2004 at 5:29 pm

I enjoyed the article. There are a few observations I’d like to share.
First, as far as the food industry is concerned, China today has much more freedom (doesn’t mean that overall it has more economic freedom). Government regulations do not really exist in this area. I state this dogmatically, as it’d be too much work to provide the evidence. There are many benefits of such deregulation as readers of this blog would appreciate. There are also interesting examples of how such things work in a free market.
One consequence is that there have been many cases of food poisoning. It turned out that “small businesses” are often interested in making quick profits and add very harmful chemicals to many foods to enhance the appearance and texture.
In turn, the consumers tend to be extremely knowledgeable about these things, and newspapers often offer tips on how to identify these foods. TV shows which reveal the horrors of “bad foods” are enormously popular. Incredible vigilance in ordinary people.
A more interesting consequence is that well-established supermarkets are extremely popular in china, even though their prices are usually higher. What they offer is a guarantee, often posted on the walls of these places, that there is absolutely no fake or chemically processed foods. Whenver the consumer’s trust is violated, a big scandal ensues. If I remember correctly, Walmart got into trouble with some of the rice noodles they were selling (yes, Walmart supercenters there are completely different).

I don’t think market forces are perfect. But then there is no perfection on earth. One must recognize the lesser evil and make a rational choice. What we know for sure is that under different systems (e.g. regulated vs. deregulated), different patterns of behavior will emerge. In the case of China, one major problem is the lack of a sound legal system, which allows punishment of fraudulent practices. If that’s in place, the situation will I think improve.

And finally, I should say that I have never witnessed a more dramatic improvement in the variety and quality of food since China started the economic reform. This is the big picture. And while 20 years ago the choices available to the American consumer would have been the envy of all Chinese people, today not a single rational soul there would want to shop at an American supermarket instead. This is not even a minor exaggeration.

Walt D. July 26, 2004 at 1:33 am

Dennis cites several examples of corporate indifference to safety and claims that government regulation is necessary to address this inherent problem of the market. This implicitly assumes that government regulation is a) necessary and b) sufficient to rectify the problem. Lew has already given an opinion on the necessity. On the sufficiency issue, the proponents of government regulation assume that the government can solve the problem in a cost effective manner. However, what we get with government regulation is bureaucracy. Readers of this site will have already seen an excellent series of articles by Robert Blumen on the inherent problems of bureaucracy.
One of the problems of federal government regulatory agencies is that they are intertwined with the politicians and campaign finance. Heads of these agencies tend to be political appointees, promoted by politicians, who are often in the pockets of the very industries they are supposed to be regulating. This creates a potential conflict of interest.
To take a concrete example:
About 10 years ago, California decided to mandate the additive MTBE for all gasoline sold in the State. The refineries favored this legislation – since none of the adjacent states would be using the same formulation, it would grant them a virtual monopoly. Many scientists argued against MTBE on the following grounds.
a) Since it reduces gas mileage by 2 to 3%, the total pollutants per mile would be the same.
b) MTBE produces formaldehyde in the exhaust. Formaldehyde pollutes groundwater, poisons fish, causes chronic bronchitis, and is known to be a carcinogen.

Dr. Bill Wattenberg was called to hearings in Sacramento as an expert witness. Under rigorous cross examination, he produced (convincing) evidence to refute the proponent’s claims. After the hearing he recounts a conversation he had with one of the oil industry lobbyists –”You made some good points Bill, but there’s one thing you don’t understand! We own these people!”
The legislation was enacted. The water supply in Santa Monica was polluted. Lake Tahoe was polluted. Gas MPG went down. The air was not cleaned up at all. Worse still, people sensitive to formaldehyde ended up with chronic coughs. Meanwhile, 10 years later, gas in California costs 30 cents per gallon more than gas in neighboring states. The State of California now acknowledges the danger. However, the only action they have taken is to require a warning label at the gas pumps – they have not banned it. Nevertheless, they still have the gall to take the money from the tobacco settlement and run billboard ads criticizing the tobacco industry!

Needless to say, I am skeptical of the appointment of Jimmy Carter to the newly created cabinet-level position of “Peanut Czar”!

Dr. Moe July 26, 2004 at 4:03 am

I’ve been thinking about what Brad and Lucretius and Doug and Mark have been saying, and it seems to me that we’re talking in two different worlds of discourse. In your world, what matters is that Libertarian values triumph. You tell me that Libertarianism is not necessarily a recipe for a utopia, that it is, in the words of Doug, taken as a “premise” that government interference is “uneconomic” – in other words that government interference in the economy makes the public worse off. However, I cannot take this as a premise – nobody who is not already convinced can take this as a premise – it seems to me that, if you make this claim, you must make it as a conclusion to an argument. If you throw it in as a given when you start, naturally you’ll come out with it at the end, but this is by no means a proof to a layman such as myself.

And as far as utopian dreams – well, most of us here already live in a utopia, at least by historical standards. Liberal statism has done pretty well, at least compared to communism, fascism, imperialism, or monarchy. It’s got us driving cars, getting enough to eat, wearing clean, warm clothing, police who (usually) come when they’re called, children who (mostly) learn to read and write instead of being put to work in the fields or left to laze around, the whole lifestyle of Western civilization. Libertarianism can’t just come in and sneer at our liberal statist society – no sir. Libertarianism must give us reason to expect more and better stuff, happier and more fulfilling lives, then what we’ve got now, or I think that you’ll find that nobody actually wants it. Hell yeah I want utopia. It’s not necessarily a final resting place, but it’s certainly a worthwhile quest. Get us there, or get out of the way!

And that’s my world, where I come to ask – what’s the benefit of a particular way of doing things? Who wins, who loses, and most importantly – by how much? If food safety regulations are removed, what gains will there be exactly to compensate for the occasional death that results? What’s in it for me – what’s in it for us?

Food safety is better in the US than in some places. An old coworker of mine, an Indian woman, was shocked when I revealed that I did not sift my rice for gravel before cooking. After all, gravel just gets in the rice sometimes, do I want to break a tooth? Yet I’ve eaten rice very often and never found any gravel in it, because I live in a country which does not allow any gravel in the rice. Our system of food safety regulation, as it stands now, does work reasonably well. At least, it works better than India’s does. So now the question is – do we keep working within our existing regulatory framework to make sure that people don’t break teeth on gravel or die of avoidable allergies? Or do we just toss the whole system away on principle?

Lucretius gives a fairly balanced account of food safety in a less-regulated economic sector, while Brad goes out and says outright that we all “ought” to eat fresh food and eschew the possibly-unsafe packaged items that are provided by what? Oh yeah, the market. Lots of good this market is, if it keeps trying to sell me things that I “ought” not to buy. Well, Brad, I don’t want to live in complete paranoia. I don’t want to buy a soft drink and wonder if today is the day that I’ll chug it right out of the bottle and strangle on a piece of plastic ribbon that shouldn’t be in there, but is. I don’t want to buy a jar of jelly and wonder if today is the day it’ll contain a sliver of glass that kills me nice and slowly of peritonitis. And I don’t want people who are allergic to peanuts dying because they ate some food that wasn’t supposed to contain peanuts, but did.

If you want people not to try to solve this problem with regulation, you need to present a logical case that nonregulation will solve the problem better. It is not enough to say that your premises indicate that regulation is wrong. It certainly is not enough to say that the market has already assigned us a natural level of risk, tampering with which will bring about disaster.

Kevin Carson July 26, 2004 at 11:18 am

Dennis Fletcher,

In your complaint that the market functions only “reactively,” you seem to be assuming that 1) government means well, and 2) that it could do a competent job of dealing with dangers proactively. Those are huge leaps of faith.

One reason the government labelling system works so abysmally is that it has been captured by the very agribusiness interests it purportedly regulates. The Pure Food and Drug Act was pushed through under TR under pressure from the regulated industries, as a way of cartelizing quality and safety standards and removing them as issues of competition. If you don’t believe me, read the relevant chapters in Gabriel Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism.

FDA regulations prohibit processors or retailers from providing additional label information, e.g. the absence of GMO content. The reason is that the big producers controlling the agribusiness industry don’t want an upstart disrupting the cartel by advertising a higher quality product than the industry standard, and thus bringing competition back into the picture. As Mr. Rockwell said in the first paragraph of the post, it is the large regulated firms that are afraid of a market labelling system.

Do you really think this government is capable of dealing with problems proactively, and doing a competent job of it?

Kevin Carson July 26, 2004 at 11:23 am

I meant to add, it takes a real leap of faith to assume that a government, staffed by time-serving bureaucrats who have nothing to lose financially from a defective product, have more of an incentive to take preventive action than a market actor that could lose everything in a lawsuit.

Apparently it reflects an article of faith: that government action, being “public,” reflects the social conscience or idealistic motives, and is therefore somehow higher and more noble than private action.

Kevin Carson July 26, 2004 at 11:31 am

Sorry to keep coming back. But a couple more points:

Doug Smith,

I object to Hardin’s use of the term “commons.” A piece of land “owned” by the government is not a commons. A traditional commons, in woodland or pasture, was not at all subject to what Hardin called “tragedy of the commons.” The commons were a form of communal property, subject to detailed rules by its owners, the village. Government land, on the other hand, doesn’t belong to anybody.

And Dr. Moe,

if you think civil action is “unlibertarian,” you must have got your ideas of “libertarianism” by hanging around Milton Friedman and the Randroids. One objection Rothbard had to the regulatory state was that it had crowded out, preempted, and supplanted the common law of private nuisance. In many cases, the regulatory state was supported by big business precisely because it replaced tort liability action by local juries with the most minimal standards.

Mark Scott July 26, 2004 at 12:22 pm

This NY Times article (Link)was back in April 2004 so maybe things have changed but this is a case where not only is government the lowest common denominator but in response to the big business cartel it actually opposed actual (or at least perceived) higher food safety standards desired by the buyer.

Believers in the state question whether third party private solutions could/would work while organizations like UL on the electrical side keeps on going while on the government side the USDA actively impedes standards (meaningful, higher, or voluntary it appears) or at least attempts at differentiation based on standards (consumers might end up liking them). Why is it anarchists/libertarians have to explain themselves?

speedwell July 26, 2004 at 12:29 pm

(sigh) Maybe I’m slow, but here is what I think.

The food company did everything reasonable, I’m sure, to make sure their food was safe for healthy people. Food companies cannot be expected to make their food safe for every individual. Even a normal portion size of bottled water is unsafe for some people if they drink it all.

But when it comes right down to it, the food company did not kill the unfortunate colleague of Dr. Moe’s. The allergy killed him. It is inherently difficult and unsafe for people with a rare and dangerous vulnerability to live like the rest of us. The fact is, the young researcher was the victim of his own body.

This is a bad thing, and I feel sorry for the loss of a promising, intelligent young man, but it has nothing at all to do with the freedom of the market. Economic forces did not give the man his allergy.

Mark Yannone July 26, 2004 at 7:48 pm

Lew wrote, “Death is bad for business. So is sickness.”

Not always, Lew. A pharmaceutical company manufactures a sugar substitute named Splenda (sucralose). A short list of the symptoms produced by consuming Splenda include:

abdominal pain
heart palpitations
shortness of breath
feelings of “disconnectedness”

A list of the Splenda horror stories begins here(Link).

A visit to Splenda.com(Link) will show you that the manufacturer provides no warning whatsoever, yet–as a public service to its valuable customers–they list many of the symptoms in a section called Lifestyle Articles. At the bottom of the treatise for each of the symptoms, they present the treatments–drugs that they manufacture. This pharmaceutical company creates the problems and provides the treatments, with the blessing of the FDA.

Can we make the FDA accountable? Try it. Can we hold the pharmaceutical company liable? Try it.

The solution is to rid ourselves of the FDA, and replace it with whatever private company would like to assume the responsibilities and reap the rewards. The second part of the solution is ready access to justice in court, and that is sadly lacking today.

Dean Patterson July 26, 2004 at 11:20 pm

I don’t really know at what level a person allergic to something like peanuts, dairy products, etc would be affected by trace contamination. I doubt that 1 molecule would cause a problem or maybe even a part per million. There must be some common sense level at which people are not adversely impacted and this common sense level should be stated if we are going to even discuss the matter. Just finding presence of something may not be meaningful. Lord Kelvin said “If you can’t express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatifactory kind.”

FreeDawg July 27, 2004 at 8:52 am

Oh what a lively debate!

Mark raises a good point. Since it is the FDA’s job to inspect the “purity” and “cleanliness” of food, wouldn’t it also be the FDA’s responsibility if the food does not meet appropriate standards?

Ah, but this is exactly what governemnt intervention does, it removes the responsibility from the right.

I (the government) have the right to impose standards and to inspect to ensure those standards are met, but when those standards are not met, it’s YOUR responsibility, not mine, and now, not only are you going to have to make restitutions for the results of the contaminated food, but I’m going to punish you as well.

So if a product contains a peanut that it is not supposed to contain, and inclusion of that nut results in a death, I would say the responsibility lies with the inspectors for not catching it in the first place.

So, let’s remove all aspects of the production of food (agriculture, etc.) or food products (production machinery, transportation services, etc.) from the hands of private corporations (shackled by governmental inspection and regulation) and place it entirely under government operation.

That way the government (of the people, by the people, and for the people) will have full control over the “cleanliness” and “purity” of the food. Now funded by taxation, the new Department of Sustenance will certainly spare no expense to ensure that even those of us with the most meager of means will be provided with an adequate amount of the highest quality food.

“In the end they will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, ‘Make us your slaves, but feed us.’” -Dosteovsky, Grand Inquisitor

Walt Goodpastor, MBA July 27, 2004 at 12:04 pm

It’s not that food manufacturers (better termed “agri-business owners”) necessarily want to kill us. These are the same people who have poisoned us with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” aka trans-fats, for the last 50 years or so. What they want is to make as much money as they can, and if they kill some of us off in the process, “Oh well!” That’s just the cost of doing “business.”

I think Lenin (or was it Stalin) said, “If you want to make an omlet, you have to break some eggs.” More corporate collectivist totalitarian wisdom from people who don’t give a damn about the lives of individuals: “Eventually, the unrestrained free market will work it all out, so what if a lot of people die in the process.” It’s more important that the owners of unearned wealth go unchecked so that they can retain their wealth & power.

Sorry Rockwell, your essay aptly demonstrates that there is no difference between right wing corporate collectivists & left wing communists… all for the “greater good,” right?

David Heinrich July 27, 2004 at 2:05 pm

Walt Goodpastor,

As Lew said, people being killed is bad for business. If you have read more of Lew’s articles than this single article, you would know he’s not utilitarian, as your “greater-good” comment implies. The idea that food companies are “poisoning” us with trans-fats is non-sense. Firstly, trans-fats are not poison; secondly, these companies haven’t physically forced us to buy anything we don’t want to.

FreeDawg’s post illustrates the absurdity of State-intervention. Does anyone in their right mind really think that there’s anything useful that the State can do better than the free market? The only thing the State does alot better than the free market is waste precious resources on anti-productive projects. One can imagine the “quality” of food if it was completely controlled by the State, just like the “quality” of all those State-provided “services” in the former USSR.

What Lew is saying is that businesses in the free market have the incentive to make good products at low prices. Mass-production food-companies on the free market, producing for the average person, have no need to maintain a paranoid certainty that no peanuts particles what-so-ever get in something that isn’t supposed to have peanuts in it. Only specialty companies, producing for those with specific illnesses or allergic reactions, would do such. And the free market does, indeed, come up with solutions for minorities with allergic reactions, as Rockwell pointed out. For a very small minority (say an allergy which only 2 people in the world have), obviously there aren’t going to be companies specializing to sell food to those individuals. In that case, it is the individual’s responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary for him or her-self.

Interventionism in the food market by the State takes the form of mandating certain levels of food-purity. Of course, as Lew pointed out, the largest businesses tend to argue for this, as they can afford to maintain compliance, while the cost of such would drive smaller businesses out of business. Of course, another “wonderful” benefit of this is selective enforcement; the State can choose to enforce the rules loosely, in a sane manner, but use the possibility of enforcing them strictly against one company to get whatever it wants. Similar to the situation with construction-laws; I’ve heard there are so many zoning laws that it is impossible to legally construct anything. Another “wonderful” benefit of State intervention would be much higher prices on food; insuring that there isn’t a single particle of peanut-butter in a salad isn’t free — it costs lots of extra money.

Lew’s point is that the companies in the unhampered free market can deal with the world much better than State-intervention can.

Francisco Torres July 27, 2004 at 2:46 pm

“That way the government (of the people, by the people, and for the people) will have full control over the “cleanliness” and “purity” of the food. Now funded by taxation, the new Department of Sustenance will certainly spare no expense to ensure that even those of us with the most meager of means will be provided with an adequate amount of the highest quality food.”

How much is “adequate”? What portion? What kind of foods?

What do you have in mind a state bureaucrat will suppose is adequate for you, or for me, or for a small child, or for a pregnant woman? What does the word “adequate” mean for you?

Last, have you given ANY thought about what you wrote above? I don’t think so.

Lucas Engelhardt July 27, 2004 at 3:22 pm

“It’s more important that the owners of unearned wealth go unchecked so that they can retain their wealth & power.” – Walt Goodpastor, MBA

So, are we talking about politicians here, Walt? Because they are the people who have unearned wealth and are relatively unchecked (except by periodic elections, which by the way, bureaucrats DON’T have. And, through these elections, the majority is allowed to force its will on the minority). Business people are continuously being checked by individuals in the market. And, if market participants uncover that a business (like Splenda, listed above) has a product that can cause serious problems, it can ruin the business. Of course, this depends on how seriously people take the claim of harm. Now, what this realy means is: it depends on individual estimates of how likely THEY are to be harmed and how bad the potential harm is. Even if Splenda is relatively likely to give me a headache, so what? It’s a small price to pay if it’s actually a better sweetener (on the whole)than others out there. Personally, that’s not my evaluation, because I hate headaches. So, I choose not to use Splenda. That simple. (For example, I stopped taking a certain kind of multivitamin because it made me terribly nauseated.)

If people die along the way, the fact is NOT “Oh, well!” The fact is this: things kill people. Cars kill people. Should we ban them? Peanuts kill people. Should we ban them? Boats kill people. Should we ban them? What really needs to be done is for individuals to judge the likelihood of death based on the evidence that they have. If they are deathly afraid of death (ironic phrase, no?), then you would expect them to be scouring the Internet looking for everything that might possibly kill them. If they’re not that afraid of death, then they probably won’t spend that much time worrying about it, so they’ll choose not to look for the information.

The beauty of the free market: you’re not forced to do anything. This includes saving your own life.

FreeDawg July 27, 2004 at 3:28 pm

Francisco, my man, I’m speaking facetiously. That statement is meant to be taken ironically, not seriously. Hence the marvelous quote from Dostoevsky. Context is important, man.

The sub-text here is that middle-of-the-road, interventionist policy always leads to Socialism. (For more on that, you can read Mises’ essay with the similar title).

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t ask the government to regulate and control only parts of the economy. Not only does that intervention create unforseen problems, which then are corrected with further intervention (creating a sort of ripple effect, eventually consuming large portions of the economy), but it is in the very nature of government to grow and expand it’s interventionist powers. The changes are gradual, usually supported by statists and their intellectual ilk, and are rarely opposed by anyone.

Eventually, we end up with the “Department of Agriculture”, the “Department of Defense”, the “Department of Homeland Security”, the “Department of Commerce”, the “Department of Justice”, the “Department of the Interior”, the “Department of Labor”, the “Department of Education”, the “Department of Energy”, the “Department of Transportation”, the “Department of Health and Human Services”, the “Department of Veterans Affairs” the “Department of Housing and Urban Development”, and maybe even someday the “Department of Sustenance”.

There is no looking back, here. We’re well on our way to a totalitarian socialist regime disguised as a flimsy Democratic Republic.

And they wonder why I don’t stand for the “Pledge of Allegiance” . . .

Lawrence July 27, 2004 at 4:31 pm

Although a fervent admirer of Mises, I still believe events proved him wrong about interventionism leading to pure socialism. Rather, social democracy tends to be “the gravity well towards which both market and socialist societies sink”, as Hummel put it (The Myth of National Defense, edited by Hoppe). For example the US and Britan receded after an apogee of limited government around 1900 whereas Russia already retreated from abolishing all markets well before Soviet disintegration in 1991. In other words state activity tends to find a stable equilibrium somewhere around the maximum of the Laffer curve.

This actually makes things worse : if interventionism had led to pure socialism, its eventual collapse (as predicted by Mises) may have led to laissez-faire. However, the stability of the “mixed economy” (where parasite and host tend to accommodate each other) means that a free society will only come around through a “leap of ideology”, when people start valuing freedom enough to resist state coercion.

David Heinrich July 27, 2004 at 9:45 pm


History cannot prove economic theory right or wrong. Mises devoted large sections of his work to that. Rather, we interpret history through economic theory.

What you’ve done is attempted to show that history “proves” your point. Rather, all you’ve done is to interpret history through your theory. You’ve taken the US, which was laissez faire, and Russia, which was communist, and have noted that both are now a mixed economy. You attempt to use this as evidence for your theory that socieities tend towards a mixed economy.

However, I can have a different interpretation of history. The US was initially relatively laissez faire, and various interventions snowballed on eachother. The past century has been a steady march towards fascism in the US. I can interpret this through Mises’ theory that interventionism leads to more interventionism. The USSR collapsed under its own weight, the result of gross socialist inefficiency and misallocation of resources. I can also interpret this through Mises, who argued that socialism cannot effectively manage a complex economy. It is true, that the USSR abandoned “war socialism” well before its collapse, but that is again illustrating Mises’ point that communism cannot effectively manage an economy.

What happens is that various interventions lead to problems, and (of course) the politicians solution to this is to intervene some more. This happens continuously, until we reach socialism, at which point everything promptly collapses. Most likely, what’s going to happen, is it is going to collapse back down to a mixed-economy. Though Mises was right to present the alternative of eliminating all the intervention to solve the problem, I think he was wrong to think that politicians might entertain such. Mises went wrong when he thought that you could simply educate politicians about the bad consequences of their regulations, and that then they would stop. The unfortunate fact is that these people (with a few notable exceptions) are simply evil.

Lawrence July 28, 2004 at 1:29 am

I agree with you (and with Mises) on 3 points :

- history does not “prove” a theory right or wrong. However I still think history may in certain cases “give hints” (ie replace “prove” with “give hints” in my former post).
- interventions tend to snawball on each other. However I don’t think this necessarily leads to pure socialism.
- socialism cannot manage a complex economy and eventually collapses. However the outcome of the collapse is generally not a free society.

With these considerations in mind, I still think the theory of social democracy as a “gravity well” is at this point both consistent and plausible. You state yourself that socialism most likely “is going to collapse back into a mixed economy”. As you say, politicians are “simply evil” (I also subscribe to the theory that the worst tend to rise to the top), however they also tend to get increasingly skilled at guessing “how far they can go” i.e. where the maximum of the Laffer curve lies (and should they get it wrong and approach pure socialism, then its collapse will likely bring it back to a mixed economy). What it will take to get out of this “well” is an ideological shift towards valuing freedom.

Mark Yannone July 28, 2004 at 2:12 am

Says Lucas, above:

“Even if Splenda is relatively likely to give me a headache, so what? It’s a small price to pay if it’s actually a better sweetener (on the whole)than others out there.”

Lucas, not one of the Splenda victims who reported their horror stories to foodanddiet.com (Link) said “so what” to any of their symptoms. All were shocked by the severity of their illnesses and were quick to add that they threw out the balance of what they had purchased. Those who were advised that they could test their self-diagnosis by consuming a little more Splenda once they had sufficiently recovered from their illnesses vehemently refused.

The ready access to valuable information on the Internet has made a big difference in being able to diagnose such health problems and avoid the problems. Other efforts, like informing the manufacturer and retail stores of the poisoning effects of Splenda (sucralose) have had no effect whatsoever. So the widespread distribution of information and, eventually, a hefty class-action lawsuit remain our best defenses and remedies to such problems. One thing is certain: the FDA is not the solution.

florian July 28, 2004 at 2:58 am

I think that regulations dumb people down. If the government said it’s safe ,it’s safe, no further thought is required. Now it seems to me that it has been amply proven all around the world how treacherous such perceived safety is in reality. The result is most likely an increase in the same regualtory system that made the tradgedy happen. If however a private buisness fouls up the most likely consequence is again the cry for govenmental regulation not the one for an increased quality control within the buisness. Seems a bit odd.
Another observation i have made is that if something is “free” most people don’t assign a monetary value to it. This results in a far more wasteful consumption of the free good as if it had an asigned cost.
Just look at free buffets at conventions. People storm it and pile tons of food on their plate and then they don’t eat it. Do you think the same would happen if they’d have to pay for it ?

Moses July 28, 2004 at 6:13 am

The funny thing is, there were no regulations of the labeling of allergens. There have, until this law passed been voluntary labeling, but not mandatory labeling of certain “spices, flavoring, or colorings”, or “incidental additives”.

So, 1) Lew’s article was misleading (in many more ways that I’m going to list here) in that he states that there was already a law on the books requiring the indication of allergens on food labels. There was not; the law allowed exemptions for “spices, flavoring, and colorings”, and did not require allergens to be expressely called out. If peanuts were used to “flavor” a cookie that had not had peanuts in the past, and peanuts were not clearly labeled as ingredients, then someone with an allergy to peanuts who used to eat such cookies could suddenly have a deadly reaction to this new cookie in old packaging.

2) the “free market” has not been effective in this repect. If it had been, Dr. Moe’s coworker may not have died from an allergic reaction to a NEW ingredient in a food that he’d been safely eating for years.

When food companies claim their “recipes” need to be kept secret, and that they shouldn’t have to tell people what they’re feeding them, I sense snake oil. Contrary to Lew’s claim that it’s “implausible that anyone selling food would somehow be reluctant to say that this or that product contains milk, eggs, peanuts, or whatever.”, it’s quite plausible when that someone selling the food is worried about “proprietary recipes” or trade secrets. There’s no economic incentive for companies to care about a very small group of people when most of their customers are not going to be affected by the unlisted ingredients.

The straw man argument posed by Lew that, “Nothing makes people more hysterical and resentful than the idea that a particular food is not nourishing but rather deadly.” A food panic that may affect almost everyone (mad cow disease, for example, which DID NOT cause a panic in the US) is very different from an allergen that affects 1% or less of the public. Most people aren’t affected by it, so they’re not going to stop eating the food, and thus the food company doesn’t need to worry that their profits are going to drop.

The paniced reaction to requiring food companies to label when their foods contain potentially deadly ingredients that leads to Lew’s statment that, “[i]f the market fails here, it fails everywhere, and we need the total state.” is ridiculous. The market DOES fail here, but it hasn’t failed everywhere, and the state hasn’t needed to completely take over every aspect of the market.

I have no food allergies that I know of, but I don’t mind paying a few extra pennies per purchase to ensure that people that I WILL NEVER KNOW will be less likely to die from mis/unlabeled foods. Considering that, for example, 1 in 100 people NEED to avoid gluten (yeah, find that clearly marked on a food label), I consider it completely worth the small additional cost to require that foods with gluten be clearly labeled. That’s what being a member of a society is all about–making sure the society is better for everyone involved, not just that the market is free from all controls.

raoul July 28, 2004 at 8:52 am

Well, well, well,

a) The definite history of social democracy is not yet written.
b) How could I grow up and survive (like billions of other people) in an unlabelled world)?
c) Can we lead safe zombie lives under an umbrella made of reinforced concrete provided by the government? Or would a freer world require us to be more alert. Buyer beware, imitate the Chinese, and so on?
d) I am not sure I have understood the relevance of the unfortunate young man story. Was it an accident during processing? Could the necessity of labelling have avoided it?
Was it a change in the recipe? He stocked the product, and was used to it. Would he have noticed a small change on the label? So a very visible warning should be required by an additional law in such a case. Back to c)
e) Two sets of eyes are not really better. I have too often seen each one relying on the other. One real responsible is enough.

Brad Dexter July 28, 2004 at 10:10 am

And as far as utopian dreams – well, most of us here already live in a utopia, at least by historical standards. Liberal statism has done pretty well, at least compared to communism, fascism, imperialism, or monarchy. It’s got us driving cars, getting enough to eat, wearing clean, warm clothing, police who (usually) come when they’re called, children who (mostly) learn to read and write instead of being put to work in the fields or left to laze around, the whole lifestyle of Western civilization. Libertarianism can’t just come in and sneer at our liberal statist society – no sir.

Dr. Moe,

And all of this wonderful bounty brought to you by the State that is indebting you up to your eyeballs. This wonderful world is brought to you by mortgaging the future. But the bill will have to be paid, and it will be paid with a combination of higher taxes and inflation that will force suceeding generations of work and labor longer than the current generation (and the one just past). The OECD is already putting out papers stating that in the future working until 70 should be standard (presumably as a minimum). Never mind that for the past few years retiring at 62-65 is normal, and many retire ‘early’. That’s where all the ‘bounty’ you cite comes from. The wonderful world you adore is borne on the backs of future workers in an intergenerational transfer scheme. So keep your opinion in mind 30 years from now, when taxation and inflation are making good on the bill, and your savings buys less and less, and you have to work ~19% longer than the current generations just to get by.

As for allergens, inspections, regulations, etc etc etc, simply put we are talking about probabilities. We can remove risk and create a security zone in the 99th percentile, all we have to do is devote all the resources available at the problem, and restrict freedom to the maximum. There will be error rates still as nothing is ever 100%. But who chooses what is receive all the attention of our labors? What else will be allowed to suffer by neglect? I assume that since resources are scarce, not every condition and circumstance can be offered a 99% surety. In that case, regulation and government intervention merely follows the cause de jour to placate the masses and buy votes to maintain and secure even more power.

Whose cause is more important than others? What is statistically material in terms of population size and the ‘toxicity’ levels of food components? You’ve provided one, personalized, example. But what about every other cause that exists? What about every other ‘minority’ who wants invasion into the market for their cause? Imagine the ‘competition’ embedded in such causes, and the demand put on scarce resources, even if regulation were the order of the day. In the end, someone’s cause is going to have to be shifted off the ledger whether there is regulation or not. You’ve just chosen the one closest to your own experience.

In the case cited by Dr. Moe, the individual obviously had an extremely low tolerance to peanuts, the condition was ‘natural’, and the pot pie maker did not intentially introduce contamination so as to kill. Since I have not heard of the great pot pie scandal of 2004, I’ll assume that we are talking about a slim minority of one, who had his own condition, his own knowledge of the risks of exposure, and the ulitmately responsibility of what he put into his body. If there is room for error, it is his ‘due diligence’ to KNOW what he is eating. The majority of independent individuals remain disinterested in the matter, produce and consume at will without being fettered by the State. If that sounds tyrannical, just keep in mind what I said above, with limited resources, coupled with intervention, you simply champion the cause of a particular ‘minority’ at the expense of the majority and all the other ‘minorities’.

The State doesn’t create anything. It merely shifts burdens; someone has to lose for everyone who gains. The resources have to come from somewhere, they don’t appear from thin air. Every resource used to perfect peanut purity has to come from somewhere else. And in the case of the super-sensitive, the statistical tail cannot wag the dog.

Lucas Engelhardt July 28, 2004 at 2:02 pm

Hey, Mark,

That’s part of my point, really… Ultimately, only the consumer can decide if the risk is worth it. These people decided that it’s not. Good for them.

However, some (usually the ones that don’t complain) have decided that the risk is worth it. That’s why appealing to manufacturers and retailers doesn’t work. They’re responding to consumers. If a sufficient number of consumers said “not worth it”, Splenda wouldn’t be able to sell, so retailers wouldn’t carry it and manufacturers wouldn’t produce it. But, that’s not what’s happening. Plenty of people say “worth it”, so Splenda sells profitably. As long as that’s the case, retailers will sell it, and manufacturers will produce it.

Like I’ve pointed out before, cars kill people. Does that mean we should have a class action suit against GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler? No. It’s a risk people accept when they get behind the wheel.

I would argue that using Splenda is similar. People that decide the negative effects aren’t worth it won’t use it. People that think they are (or people that think they’re unlikely) will.

To believe in freedom is to believe in the right that people have to make potentially bad choices.

Braden July 28, 2004 at 3:13 pm

As a side note, can a libertarian actually advocate a class action lawsuit (which by current legal definition forces all possible parties to be parties to the suit unless the specifically exclude themselves)? Firthermore could a libertarian advocate that you sue splenda’s manufacture (whom you have no contractual agreement with) or merely the store where you bought the splenda product (where you have some contractual relation)?

FreeDawg July 28, 2004 at 3:54 pm

Another good example is the use of seatbelts and other safety devices in cars.

I understand that the proper use of seatbelts will, in general, greatly reduce my risk of injury or death should I be involved in an automobile collision. That being said, should I choose not to wear my seatbelt, am involved in a collision (whether it’s my fault or not), and suffer injuries as a result, I am (at least partly) responsible for the extent of my injuries.

I failed to practice due dilligence to prevent or reduce the risk of injury or death in the event of a collision.

The same goes for motorcycling. The first rule of biking is: “Right, wrong, or indifferent, in a crash, YOU LOSE.”

I like to apply that same statement to government.

Glenda Lindsey August 1, 2004 at 5:08 pm

You state that it is implausible that anyone selling food would be reluctant to say that this product contains…whatever. But when it comes to monosodium glutamate the product labels very often only list “natural flavoring.” And this “natural flavoring” is injected into raw meats, dairy products and many things we use to prepare our food. Many people are suffering a wide range of ills from this “excito-toxin.” Why the cover-up and how can the market respond properly when most are unaware of just what the culprit is???

Garrett Smith January 25, 2005 at 4:25 pm

Responding to Moses who wrote: ===snip=== I have no food allergies that I know of, but I don’t mind paying a few extra pennies per purchase to ensure that people that I WILL NEVER KNOW will be less likely to die from mis/unlabeled foods. ===end snip===

This brings up a point Gary North makes (in the context of public schools, probably among others): just because Moses doesn’t mind paying a few extra pennies does not justify Moses’ using the government’s guns to require me to pay a few extra pennies for the new regulations.

In other words, whether any particular person approves or disapproves of this particular regulatory act, it’s worth remembering that reasonable minds may differ on the question whether it’s a good allocation of resources. Accordingly, and importantly then, when it’s by a government act that a use of resources is required, it’s as a result of force and guns that the resources are allocated. So the people who disagree on the question have the government’s hand in their wallet and the government’s gun in their belly requiring them to pay for the use of resources with which they disagree. This is an unacceptable (and not good) outcome.

Antone Virock March 6, 2010 at 6:10 pm

Exciting take on this, like a sailor I’m usually keen to understand much more about boating.

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