In the novel, Atlas Shrugged, the great steel tycoon, Henry “Hank” Rearden and his assistants create a metal alloy that’s stronger, lighter and cheaper to produce than steel. For this great achievement, the government subjects Rearden to every form of business obstruction it can muster. This includes a propaganda campaign, new laws and attempts to badger Rearden into selling the rights to the metal to a government institution.
In the real world, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and his team developed a cancer treatment that’s more effective (for some cancers), safer to administer and that produces much milder side-effects than radiation and traditional chemotherapy. For this great achievement, Dr. Burzynski was subjected to a harrowing, multi-year ordeal of interference by the FDA and state government.
This incredible, real-world progression of events is meticulously and compellingly documented in the 2010 film, “Burzynski,” currently available on Netflix streaming.
While the documentary is a searing indictment of the FDA, it is less compelling in its attempt to implicate the competitive drive of big pharmaceutical companies as the motive power behind the persecution of Burzynski. The evidence for this connection is relatively scanty. But it is certainly possible that there is some influence there, and it is definitely true that the FDA’s persecution of Burzynski served to insulate “big pharma” from competition. This would be another real-world parallel to Atlas Shrugged. There the politically connected steel baron, Orren Boyle, is involved in the government persecution of Hank Rearden, in order to eliminate his more able, productive and efficient competition.
But the lesson to draw from “Burzynski” is not that the pharmaceutical industry needs to be more heavily regulated, or that the FDA needs more “oversight.” The lesson is that the FDA needs to be abolished. Companies of all kinds will always want to remove obstacles and competition from their paths, but without the FDA regulatory machinery, they would have no way to do this by legalized force. They would only be able to overcome competition through superior efficiency and customer service. (Any coercive methods would be criminal.)
Moreover, the regulatory institutions of the state give politicians and bureaucrats the power to violate the decisions of individuals and private companies in the name of “the public interest.” This distorts economic decision-making, cripples market efficiency, and leads to pressure group warfare as described by Ayn Rand in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
‘So long as a concept such as “the public interest” (or the “social” or “national” or “international” interest) is regarded as a valid principle to guide legislation—lobbies and pressure groups will necessarily continue to exist. Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, the idea that “the public interest” supersedes private interests and rights, can have but one meaning: that the interests and rights of some individuals take precedence over the interests and rights of others.
‘If so, then all men and all private groups have to fight to the death for the privilege of being regarded as “the public.” The government’s policy has to swing like an erratic pendulum from group to group, hitting some and favoring others, at the whim of any given moment—and so grotesque a profession as lobbying (selling “influence”) becomes a full-time job. If parasitism, favoritism, corruption, and greed for the unearned did not exist, a mixed economy would bring them into existence.
‘Since there is no rational justification for the sacrifice of some men to others, there is no objective criterion by which such a sacrifice can be guided in practice. All “public interest” legislation (and any distribution of money taken by force from some men for the unearned benefit of others) comes down ultimately to the grant of an undefined, undefinable, non-objective, arbitrary power to some government officials.
‘The worst aspect of it is not that such a power can be used dishonestly, but that it cannot be used honestly. The wisest man in the world, with the purest integrity, cannot find a criterion for the just, equitable, rational application of an unjust, inequitable, irrational principle.’
In this case, the “public interest” coincides with the short-range “protection” of the major pharmaceutical companies, since their “partnership” with the FDA represents the “established system” of “ensuring the safety and efficacy of drugs.”
If the US were to institute a system of government that only protects the individual rights of citizens from the coercion and fraud of others, its people would be much better off than with the FDA.
America Before The Entitlement State
19th-Century Capitalism Didn’t Create Poverty, But Reduced It
How to Show That Taxation is Robbery
QuickPoint 2: Altruism Supports Coercion…
What Caused the Financial Crisis: It Wasn’t Capitalism or Deregulation
Comparing Burzynski to a Randian protagonist is interesting. I never would have made that connection myself but there are definitely some parallels.
The problem is not the FDA though (except for on a more supericial level). The problem is the competitive system itself. While I am no advocate of monolithic government bureaucracies, I have to concede that without them, every industry would be dominated by monopoly, oligopoly or cartel. The world would have torn itself apart through unregulated competition.
If not for the rules and regs which “stifle progress” we would be on a much more accelerated path to a scorched earth As it is, we are still heading down that path, just more slowly due to oversight.
Why aren’t you an advocate of monolithic government bureaucracies? If private competition is so destructive, why not get rid of all of it?
[Edit to add: We see a strong correlation between the degree to which a government protects individuals’ economic freedom (individual rights) and the prosperity of a country. The only coercive monopolies we see are those enabled by government legal protection or favors. What reason do you have to think that pure laissez-faire capitalism would self-destruct into coercive monopolies and produce poverty?]
You say: “The only coercive monopolies we see are those enabled by government legal protection or favors. What reason do you have to think that pure laissez-faire capitalism would self-destruct into coercive monopolies and produce poverty?”
Well, I think you answered your own question. In a laissez-faire system of unregulated commerce EVERYTHING is for sale, up to and including government. We see large corporations plying the government and supreme courts with kickbacks and bribes to legitimize their domination and enact favourable legislation. It’s just good business. It’s not that the government picks and chooses one company to elevate over others its just that they have campaigns to pay for, bills to pay and families to look after so they cast favour upon those whose patronage the rely on.
It’s not corruption; governments, corporations and people have all been given the same set of rules in this world: win at any cost. Some just happen to be better players at the game than everyone else. We’re basically all chipping away at each other.
Please pardon my shameless self-promotion here but I keep a bookmarked page on the front page of my blog to address the deeper issue here because I have gotten into many discussions like this and frankly I got sick of typing the same words over an over again.
The only kind of monopoly that can hurt you is a government monopoly, or a government-enabled monopoly.
A private monopoly you can refuse to deal with. For example if there is only one producer of toothpaste, you can refuse to buy their product and go without, or you can invent a better toothpaste and use that. You can even start a company yourself and compete with the monopoly.
A government monopoly, on the other hand, can force you to pay for their product, either through taxation or by dictating to you that you MUST buy a certain quantity, and what you have to pay.
A private company that has been given a government monopoly can deny you the right to produce your own toothpaste, and if necessary can obtain a government grant (paid by you and other taxpayers!) if they can’t sell their product.
Competition isn’t evil. It is a prerogative for progress. Without competition we would still be driving Ford Ts because nobody had produced a better car. We would still be using IBM 286’s and dial-up modems (or mechanical calculators and carrier pigeons!).
What is evil is when government uses force to stifle competition, either to protect its own monopolies, or to protect private monopolies owned by businessmen with “political connections”. It is not capitalism that is the problem. It is “crapitalism”; the unholy alliance between government and its “special friends”.
What if it weren’t effective? Would that change the calculus here?
The original Burzynski documentary provides substantial, sourced documentary evidence that anti-neoplastons (ANP’s) are effective in treating some types of cancer. Do you have evidence that this documentary evidence was faked?
But if ANP’s weren’t effective, that wouldn’t alter the benefits of abolishing the FDA. Private, non-coercive seals of approval from experts would be far more efficient and much more enabling to innovation than the coercive FDA system.
It’s not faked, and I’m certain that it was presented in all honesty. The director just had no idea what he was given or what it meant. Sometimes there’s no biopsy (sometimes the images on the scans behave more like infection). Sometimes there has been no chemo or radiation, but it has been biopsied, and that, depending on the tumor, can have an effect. If you slow the movie down and look at the documents, you’ll see that the doses of ANP and the size of the tumors in no way correlate to one another, far more indicative of something being irrelevant than to an effective treatment. What would need to be done is a proper, large scale clinical trial to weed out the false positives. (The repeated assertions that these brain tumors are always 100% fatal are simply wrong if you look into PubMed record for spontaneous remissions of DIPG and others.) A handful of anecdotes at the beginning of a movie that does not give the other side doesn’t cut it. In this case, the FDA actually protected the researcher during the trial (you sure don’t hear that in the movie!), which probably had a LOT to do with B getting off (there are other factors, too, none of which is really relevant here).
So, presumably because there are very few professionals with the skill set to analyze the clinical data (one reason why there is a lot of swapping of experts between the government and pharmaceutical companies, which I think leads to the appearance, at least, of bias/corruption), what difference does it make who they work for? Who will regulate the regulators? I mean, you can find an “expert” who will sign off on anything. And usually the loonballs are louder than the calm useful experts. Take global warming (oh, lord, what have I mentioned!). The science is in. It’s real. It’s people. It’s not going to be pretty. There is no meaningful disagreement (http://www.jamespowell.org/PieChart/piechart.html) among experts about the basic facts we should use to shape policy, and yet there are people with PhDs who still say, “it’s the sun cycle” or “CO2? Plants love it! Yay, CO2!”. So who who certifies the certifiers?
In a free market: the universities, the news media, and the collection of individuals that form the general market for the particular service.
In a regulatory state: a handful of non-expert bureaucrats who can force their decisions on everyone.
Oh, non-expert bureaucrats can (and do) force decisions on experts at the universities, and the general market depends on expertise because there is often an information imbalance. I honestly don’t see why we should, say, cede regulatory authority to the marketplace. People buy stupid things all the time, like homeopathy and ear candling. And they are enthusiastic and persuasive with their ignorance.
And to be fair, there are a lot of qualified scientists and researchers who fill positions in government. I know some of them. They are the only possible ones who can fill those positions. And when you look at, say the regulation of clinical trials, the people who are doing the inspections on the ground have expertise, know what to look for, and I’d argue that it would be up to you to demonstrate that an individual regulator is not an expert. It seems to me that governments are far more complex than, “a handful of non-expert bureaucrats who can force their decisions on everyone,” which is at best a populist caricature.
And I could tell you a thing or two about the media’s competence, especially when it comes to pharmaceuticals, reporting on research, and privileging the sensational and anomalous over the useful.
“In the real world, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and his team developed a cancer treatment that’s more effective (for some cancers), safer to administer and that produces much milder side-effects than radiation and traditional chemotherapy.”
Actually, Dr. Burzynski has done no such thing. The methodology of medical scientific research evolves continually, and now comprises a series of best practices such as peer-reviewed publishing and a stepped series of clinical trials with also must be peer-reviewed and published. Dr. Burzynski has consistently failed to have his work subjected to these standards. In fact, any sensible person — let alone a medical professional or scientist, and not having to resort to government bodies — could see that it abjectly fails. His work is thus considered bunkum and is roundly criticized, especially since he takes advantage of the ill in their most desperate state.
For more, see whole slews of posts at the blog Respectful Insolence.
Okay, well, I am not in the health science field, and I don’t currently have a reason to do in-depth research on Burzynski’s results and publication history. So I recommend that people do their own research on Burzynski’s practice and publications before selecting to be treated by him.
But any recent failures on his part to publish results do not retroactively validate what the FDA did, or the FDA’s existence.
As Art Tricque indicated, in a voluntary system, people (with the help of other experts in the field) are generally capable of evaluating the overall results of original research, even if they don’t have the expertise to do the original research themselves. Errors can lead to bad consequences, but this does not justify the government’s forcible violation of anyone’s individual judgment. Initiatory government force leads to worse consequences, especially in the long-term.