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.