A Move to the Left?
By Pierre Lemieux
That Scott Gottlieb, who recently resigned his position as FDA commissioner, has returned to the American Enterprise Institute (after two earlier stints there) perhaps illustrates the move to the left that The Economist and others have detected in American public opinion and politics (“Donald Trump’s Presidency Has Moved America Left,” June 15, 2019). What I call “the left” incorporates the ideology according to which the state, as opposed to individuals, should make the choices that it thinks are good for these individuals themselves or for “society”—which is what some elite thinks “society” likes or dislikes.
I agree that a large part of “the right” has come to think the same way, which is a return to the old European right’s authoritarian ways. So replace “the left” by “authoritarianism” if you prefer.
Dr. Gottlieb (he is a physician by trade) just signed an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (“The FDA’s Challenge on E-Cigs,” June 24, 2019) where he continues the crusade against electronic cigarettes and vaping that he pushed at the FDA. Two aspects of his op-ed are especially disturbing.
First, he wages his crusade against vaping in the name of the children. The word “kids” occurs four times in his short oped. By the way, some 11 million American adults vape, many times more than middle school and high school students. In the FDA’s and public health movement’s parlance, “kids” or “children” comprise anybody who has not reached his 18th birthday. Sometimes, the FDA seems tempted to include “young adults”—from 18 to 24—among its wards. In my just-published Reason Foundation paper on “Consumer Surplus in the FDA’s Tobacco Regulations, with Applications to Nicotine Reduction and E-Cigarette Flavors” (June 27, 2019), where I touch upon Gottlieb’s crusade at the helm of the FDA. On the “kids” issue, I write:
“No child should use any tobacco products, including e-cigarettes,” Gottlieb declared. But it is as true, and quite certainly truer, that no “child” should take drugs, or have sex, or commit suicide or mass murder (according to FBI statistics, 7 of the 50 mass shooters in 2016-2017 were in their teens). Whatever the root causes of these problems, it is doubtful that the FDA or other federal agencies can solve them by further prohibitions. Many of the bad behaviors of teenagers are already forbidden by law.
The FDA calls indistinctly “youth,” “adolescent,” “child” or “kid” anybody from 12 through 17, but this group is not homogeneous. A 17-year-old, who can enroll in the army with his parents’ permission and is on the verge of having the right to vote (18 years of age at the federal level) and to reach the age of majority in many states, is certainly different from a 12-year-old child. Those whom the FDA considers “kids” can often be held criminally responsible for their actions. In many states, they can marry and in most states, they can be licensed to drive unsupervised from age 16 (the highest threshold is 17; the lowest, 14 and a half) The three-page statement issued by the FDA commissioner [on March 10, 2018] … on flavors contains the word “kids” seven times.
Children, by definition, are not mature enough to make choices that can be assumed to be in their own best interest. It is meaningless to speak of a child’s consumer surplus. It is certainly desirable to prevent children from—or guide them away from—making choices that could seriously handicap their future adult self, a role which is normally considered as belonging to parents and other guardians (including schools).
In another Reason Foundation paper (“A Question of Taste: The Public Health Case for E-Cigarette Flavors,” November 2018), Guy Bentley wrote:
Is [FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb] right to classify current youth e-cigarette use of 20% as an epidemic? For context, current youth alcohol use in 2017 was 29.8%, marijuana use was 19.8%, and 28.7% of teens were sexually active.
This raises at least one question: How effective will the war on vaping be?
The second very disturbing aspect of the former FDA commissioner’s oped is when, in the general spirit of his piece, he writes:
The FDA could allow vape stores that follow common manufacturing processes for e-liquids to band together to file a common application for market approval. If the application is approved, the FDA would confer individual licenses on each store.
How nice it would be of the FDA to allow businesses, and grant them licenses if approved, to sell something to adult customers. Note that these businesses are already prohibited from selling vaping products to “children,” including, I would add, to child soldiers. More generally, sellers of tobacco and vaping products already operate in a regulatory straightjacket, so a reformulation is needed: How nice it is for the FDA to allow businesses to attend to their private affairs!
Pardon the old saw but with “capitalists” like that, who needs socialists?