Reply To: Massachusetts Compounding Pharmacy/Meningitis debacle


This touches on one of my favorite Robert Higgs lectures – the last few minutes, especially, because it is obvious the man cares deeply about others (it is often – falsely – claimed that “libertarians only care about themselves, not the less fortunate. What about the suffering of others” – now, that pernicious lie can be disproven in many ways; but it can be illustrated with Higgs, here). But the whole lecture is good, not just on how quality assurance would be provided in a free market but how it is – or, rather, is not – under the current regulatory regime.

Also, who should be held criminally liable when people are hurt, whether in FDA-cartel-like industry or in a free market, for innately dangerous drugs (side effects) or in contaminated drugs such as this case? Should it be the manufacturer? The administering doctor, nurse, etc? The dispensing pharmacist? If the patient administers to himself, then no one?

One option left off of here is the FDA. I’d like to hold them criminally liable for the harm they do. But I suppose that’s not possible under the present regime.

But, strictly speaking, everyone in that chain could potentially be held liable if they did not do their due diligence. That would be a matter for investigation and discovery in each case. I think “caviate emptor” would go too far; – but yes the patient should also do their due diligence.

The problem with this individual case and the “capitalism fails” theory is that we don’t have a real market, so it’s (once again) dealing in counterfactuals. But the Higgs lecture is, again, very good on this because it discusses how these individual, obvious cases are pointed to by people who use them to demand tighter regulatory controls, but the deaths caused by tight regulatory control are “unseen.” (Higgs makes the distinction between “Type 1” and “Type 2”) deaths. He points out – several times, IIRC – that even “mainstream” (non-Libertarian, non-Austrian-economist) researchers who specialize in the field have concluded that FDA-style regulations kill far more people every year than they save (and this in studies with all kinds of controls, and often with grant-funding that would incentivize them to reach the opposite conclusion if that was at all even remotely plausible, I might add). However, as with all the “ratchet” effects that Higgs has specialized in, these episodic events are used as anecdotes to form the basis of increasing government.