There Is No Freedom of Choice in America

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We have no freedom of choice in America; it’s an illusion. The federal and state governments regulate every single market in this country which means that everything any American thinks he is freely choosing is something that in fact has been u201Capprovedu201D by the state for American consumption and Americans may only u201Cchooseu201D from that list. Choosing something not on the u201Capprovedu201D list is considered criminal and can result in one losing their freedoms altogether. That’s not freedom of choice, that’s state control of people’s lives. If the last two sentences were said in the context of a communist regime, no one would hesitate to nod acceptingly, but when uttered in the context of the U.S. government, they are considered to be conspiratorial and paranoid, but are true just the same.

How many people have been arrested and imprisoned for selling goods and services that are not u201Capprovedu201D by the federal government? Our prisons are full of such people who have harmed no one socially, economically or physically but whose freedom has been taken away by the state for giving people real choice. If one were to see such a scene in a movie about communist Russia, no doubt Americans would cringe and utter something about the abusive nature of communism. When it happens in the U.S. then Americans assume the person in question must have deserved it otherwise why would he be in prison.

A lot of people don’t realize that during communism in countries like Romania, they held presidential elections as well every so many years and the people were told that they could u201Cchooseu201D the president. Thing was: all the candidates belonged to the communist party so there would always be a communist president and communism would persist. In order for someone from the communist party not to be elected, a second party would somehow have to get on the ballot and in 1990 this finally happened.

The sad, disappointing and frustrating thing is that we have the same situation here in America but the pixy-dust-sniffing majority in this country doesn’t realize it. Last presidential election I voted for the candidate of my choice, Ron Paul, and the state of Georgia threw my vote away because Ron Paul was not an official state-approved candidate. He had not done what the state decided he would need to do to be on the ballot so therefore he was not considered an u201Cofficialu201D candidate and was not on the ballot. If you chose to vote for him as a write-in, then they simply did not count your vote.

How is having only two major parties who are always on the ballot and an election system designed by the state to keep those two parties in power and which makes it almost financially and logistically impossible for other parties to get on the ballot so much different from the communist system of having only one party on the ballot and an election system that makes it financially and logistically impossible for other parties? There’s no freedom of choice in selecting our government. We as Americans are constantly voting for the lesser of two evils and seem to be content to do so.

Well how about in the market place then? Surely we must have freedom of choice in the market place. Look at all the choices we have to choose from. Unfortunately, this is a big negative as well. Just because there are a hundred different types of food or drugs, for example, from which to choose, in reality you can only choose from the ones that the state has approved for you.

The FDA is a federal agency with an annual budget in 2010 of $3.2 billion and is planning on hiring another 1,200 new employees to help construct the list of state-approved food and drugs (see, the government can create new jobs).

Now I’ve heard the argument a thousand times: sure the FDA is a government agency and it’s not perfect but without an agency like the FDA there would be harmful foods and drugs on the market that people would voluntarily choose to purchase and people could be maimed, sickened and even die. We need the FDA. Regulating food and drugs is too big a job, only the federal government has the resources to do it. Thank God for the FDA!

This argument assumes a couple of things. First, that the FDA has found the gold at the end of rainbow so the government already has the financial resources necessary to pay for their activities and so that money doesn’t have to come from the people. Secondly, that the FDA is in fact not staffed with people from the same social pool that says the federal government already has the necessary resources to regulate food and drugs but rather with wizards that posses special magical powers that the rest of us don’t and can somehow determine the u201Cgoodnessu201D of foods and drugs for human consumption. It assumes the FDA doesn’t even need humans to determine the human effects of foods and drugs. They can simply dip a piece of litmus paper into a sample and if it turns red then it is not state approved.

Of course this is not the case. The FDA has only the resources that they take from the private sector in the way of taxes, debt, inflation and manpower. Furthermore, it conducts clinical trials on humans who volunteer to participate. Basically, that means that the FDA gets volunteers to try new foods and drugs and then they sit back and watch what happens. If the volunteers have bad side effects, like their heads turn purple, their hair falls out, they are maimed, sickened or die, then the FDA disseminates this information to the public and the food or drug is not approved for sale in the U.S. and so people have no choice: they cannot buy it even if they wanted to.

Compare this to a new food or drug appearing in the market place and people voluntarily choosing to buy it and consume it. If people have adverse side effects to the new good then this information will be disseminated naturally by the market and people will choose to stop buying it.

A famous example of this was the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982 in which someone went into stores in the Chicago area and laced extra strength Tylenol capsules with potassium-cyanide. The first death occurred on September 29, 1982. Within 6 days, and completely of its own accord, Johnson & Johnson had recalled all its bottles of extra strength Tylenol with a retail market value of some $100 million. By November of the same year, Johnson & Johnson had already re-engineered its pill bottle packaging — a new triple-sealed package — and within a year Tylenol was once again a major competitor in the market place.

What was the FDA doing during this time? Sitting on its hands trying to figure out who to blame and seeing what kind of new packaging Johnson & Johnson came up with so they could copy it and modify their food and drug packaging regulations accordingly and take the credit for keeping Americans safe. As with any government agency, the FDA didn’t want this crisis to go to waste so they also used it to expand their budget and payroll. After all, with the new regulations they would need more people and money to enforce them.

In the end the FDA cannot do anymore than the market can do in identifying harmful foods and drugs. In fact, historical evidence shows that the market does a better, faster and more efficient job of identifying these things than the FDA. The FDA is always one step behind the markets. Reacting and taking the credit at a cost of $3.2 billion to the tax payer and limiting real freedom of choice in America.

Don Cooper [send him mail] is a Florida native, Navy veteran, economist, and editor of the daily non-partisan column Qaoss.com.

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