|EDITORIALFree to Choose
here is an intimate interrelationship between personal, political, and economic freedom. Indeed, a free society is a choice society, wherein government does not dictate personal choice or restrict choice … nor does it hinder the economic freedom to deliver as much variety as consumers desire and are willing to pay for. Not surprisingly, when a free society is perceived as a society that is free to choose, where everyone gets to select what they want without hindrance, there is widespread popular support. Yet there are some who don’t think we should have this freedom, and—as you may have guessed—the government payrolls are dominated by those who hold this view.
So when The Institute of Medicine (IOM), a government agency, published a 350-page report on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) this past January, you could have surmised that it would advocate more government involvement, meaning more regulation with its concomitant restrictions on commercial free speech and limitations on choice. You would have been right.
However, because this report was funded by another government agency, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), which had a significant say about who was on the investigation committee, you might have thought that its conclusions would be favorable to the industry that had created CAM—but here you would have been wrong.
According to quack watcher Stephen Barrett, M.D. (no longer licensed and, under testimony, “not an expert in nutrition”), the report generalizes excessively beyond any evidence and tries to establish an agenda that would adopt NCCAM’s notion of CAM research and teaching. Barrett disagrees with this self-serving advocacy; above all, he is a quackpot (even labeling two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling as a “Quack”), one who believes that only conventional medicine so judged as such by the “proper” government entity (mainly a properly constituted FDA) is valid. As you would expect from a man with incessant Ralph Nader-like posturing, in all areas pertaining to his criticisms he always calls for more law and more government. He is not one to embrace economic freedom. Consequently it is not surprising that when, in its report, the IOM committee recommends amending the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) to enable greater public protection against misleading claims made for dietary supplements, Barrett wholeheartedly agrees.
Not that Barrett is alone. The call for more government regulation by the IOM report was widely applauded by the common idea-dead media, which fail to see any relationship between freedom of speech, which they support, and commercial free speech, which they see as a façade for money-grubbing businesses. “There’s danger with unregulated supplements,” the media parrot, failing to compare the supplement industry with the heavily regulated drug industry, with its justly deserved class action lawsuits over fenfluramine, as well as numerous recalls and retractions, including COX-2 inhibitors, certain statins, some SSRIs, and some NSAIDs, among many others. Danger is not a real issue for supplements and complementary medicine. The IOM report might just as well be a counterattack by the besieged pharmaceutical industry.
With enough freedom—and concomitantly a substantial diminution of regulatory activity—even the most problematic aspects of the pharmaceutical industry could be salvaged. With a level economic playing field, real evidence-based biomedical science would enable both the pharmaceutical industry and the CAM industry to forge rapidly ahead, rather than to waste their energies on regulatory compliance. Indeed, they would tend to converge, for there are no conflicts when reason is at fair play in the field of human endeavor.
Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman has changed the course of human events. His book Free to Choose is written very clearly so that you don’t need to have an economics background to understand it. Its arguments are lucid and eloquent. But mostly, Friedman demonstrates that, while the free market works best for the economy, more importantly it preserves individual dignity. Far beyond mere economics, the free market is the most moral of systems, and, if you really think about it, choices are the business of individuals, not the government. When the government overtaxes us, overregulates us, and makes our choices for us, it is not just bad for the economy, it is bad morally. Regulation enables the government to abscond with our decision-making processes, leaving us barren and progressively leading us toward slavery. It is the exercise of choice that makes us who we are, that serves our individuality, and that fosters a great civilization.