Milton Friedman – FDA Vs The Free Market



I would go much further than Milton Friedman had in condemnation of the FDA – and its counterparts in other countries.

‘Nobody’ trusts the pharmaceutical companies to be in this for any altruistic purpose:  they are in it for self interest.  Therefore, if the company claims something is safe, the consumer will still be compelled to do some amount of due dilligence and checking before taking a pharmaceutical drug – or feeding it to their children.

However, if s third party – ostensibly impartial and backed by the government, which is, of course accountable to us, the elctorate (well, that is the theory), in confers an air of safety to such an endorsement.

To take the example of Thalidamide, as was used in the above video:  Here, in Canada – as well as in Europe – the drug was government approved and as a result of this, women trusted the product and took it.  Yes, I personally know people who were born deformed beacuse of this trust in the government doing the due dilligence, instead of people doing it themselves.

But I would also look at it from a slightly different angle:  by having their product goverment approved, the liability of the pharmaceutical companies is actually greatly diminished:  no longer do they have to live up to a testing standard that, if it is too low, will bankrupt them with lawsuits.  Now, they no longer have to think of all the possible things that could go wrong with their product – all they have to do is satisfy a pre-set number of conditions and convince a few bureaucrats that they have done so.

Even leaving aside the competence and or possible corruption og civil servants, this will necessarily lead to a much lower level of product testing by the manufacturers.

And, it leaves the choice away from the consumer.

Please, permit me to indulge in an example from my life.

Once upon a time, there was a medication called Vioxx.  It has since been taken off the market, but…

When I was first prescribed this medication, I was told it was not supposed to be used in people over the age of 50, because the drug increased the likelihood of heart attacks, and the older one was, the more that chance increased.  I chose to accept that risk, being fully aware of it.

As did a friend of mine, who has an inoperable tumour on her spine which, as it grows, is slowly crippling her.

When we took Vioxx – we were alive!!!

And well!  I could do things with my kids, my friend’s tumour had shrunk so much she could walk again.

Increasing the probability of a heart attack was a price we were happy to pay for the quality of life that Vioxx brought us.  We were in our 30’s, so our risk was relatively low, but even if it were 100x higher, I would still have chosen to use that medicine.

Since it was taken off the market because several people in their 60’s who took it suffered heart attacks, my friend and I cannot get the meds we want, and which we are willing to accept despite side effects.

So, who is it that owns my body – and decides what I do or do not ingest?




5 Responses to “Milton Friedman – FDA Vs The Free Market”

  1. CodeSlinger Says:


    Though I mostly agree with Milton Friedman, the Austrian School, and libertarians in general, this debate illustrates my main bone of contention with them.

    They are quite right in asserting that the free market is a regulatory mechanism far superior to government agencies like the FDA.

    Such regulatory agencies only worsen the problems they are set up to solve. They reduce competition, they create barriers to entry into the market, they cause delays, inefficiencies, and misallocation of capital, and they introduce a whole new layer of corruption.


    The implication, that disbanding the FDA would make a free market out of Big Pharma, is utterly false.

    Another step is required, and that is to take the bigness out of Big Pharma. That is, to break up the oligopoly.

    This would require much more than just using anti-trust laws to break up the huge pharmaceutical corporations into many small ones. It would also require a complete overhaul of intellectual property law, thorough restructuring of the research funding process, and comprehensive reform of how sales and promotion are conducted.

    For some reason, libertarians never mention this part of the equation, and that opens them to the accusation that they are just shills for big business. That may be overstating the case, but at minimum, the free-vs-regulated-market debate is rendered frustratingly myopic.

    In order to reign in the corruption and oppression that results from the unnatural union of big government and big business, we must take the bigness out of both.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Quite right, CodeSlinger, quite right.

      I often forget that not everyone in the world is a Kopimist.

      It seems very clear to me that an idea is not something that can be owned, I see all IP laws as illogical and something we, as a scoiety must get rid of. The very existence of IP is something that I consider to be inappropriate, and to be eliminated ASAP.

      Would this satisfy your caveat?

    • CodeSlinger Says:


      Well, it would certainly be a start.

      Neither patents nor copyrights serve any legitimate purpose in the modern world. In practice, the only players they benefit are the ones who are already firmly entrenched and well capitalized. Therefore, you’re quite right: they should be eliminated.

      But this would not be enough.

      Both government and medical companies have much too much influence on the supposedly independent research that goes on at universities. They should not be allowed to fund such research directly. If they want to fund academic research, they should have to do it by contributing to a blind trust.

      As well, doctors should not be getting their information from medical sales people. Medicine is advancing so quickly nowadays that doctors should be required to take refresher courses every two or three years to keep their certifications current.

      Further, there should be no such thing as a controlled substance or a drug that is available by prescription only. Yes, that includes poisons, narcotics and performance-enhancing drugs. People who really want these things find ways to get them regardless of legality, and forcing them into the black market does great harm but very little good.

      Similar arguments apply to all market segments that are currently dominated by a small number of large players or hamstrung by regulatory agencies.

      The involvement of government in business should be limited to interdicting fraud, protecting the freedom of the market, and maintaining the stability of the currency.

      Anything beyond that invites corruption.

      • xanthippa Says:


        we are in 100% agreement!!!

      • juggernaut Says:

        I absolutely agree Codeslinger.

        Copyrights were maybe once relevant, perhaps in the time when scientists would discover the same theory concurrently. But now I just seem them as restriction of speech, and as a way to block competition.

        I think people should be able to sell whatever chemicals they want as long as they’re honest about their products (no fraud ; aka no 1930’s tobacco companies saying that cigarettes are safe)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: