Should Fearmongers Be Held Liable for Damages?

As has been discussed elsewhere, the FDA is threatening General Mills over its advertising Cheerios’ assistance in lowering cholesterol. In so doing, the FDA claims to be the sole gatekeeper for health information in the U.S. Yet as Dan Klein and Alex Tabarrok show on our related website, and in related commentary; and Robert Higgs’s extensive research supports, the FDA’s practices have rather resulted in untold unnecessary deaths by keeping life-saving technology and drugs from the doctors and patients they could have helped — economists’ estimates vary from hundreds of thousands to millions of lives lost by the FDA’s use of its power to keep efficacious drugs and devices from the market. Yet at the same time, drug manufacturers remain liable for damages their products are alleged to have caused, even though passed as “safe” by the FDA.

In the late 1960s, Paul Ehrlich became a media darling following the publication of his book, The Population Bomb. Ehrlich’s crystal ball apparently enabled him to see with certainty that population growth would soon outstrip resources, proclaiming “the battle to feed all of humanity is over … In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Among other policy prescriptions, Ehrlich called for “compulsory birth regulation… [to be achieved by] the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired family size.” Fortunately, the U.S. had not yet reached the state it has apparently reached today, and his policy recommendations were not enacted. However, it was a hugely popular view championed in the media and on college campuses, with thousands of college students undergoing voluntary sterilization. Other countries, of course, bought into this Malthusian view; the most extreme being China’s mandatory one-child policy, resulting in forced abortions and sterilizations, and the abandonment and killing of millions of female babies. This has had numerous and as-yet untold unintended consequences, from the tragedy of families now childless following the deaths of their single children in last year’s earthquake, to the epidemic of the sex-slave trade in China’s female-starved cities. Meanwhile, the subsequent lives of those American college students of the ’70s who may have later changed their minds about wanting children is unknown.

As history has proven, rather than the dystopia Ehrlich outlined, the 1970s and ’80s were a time of increasing prosperity virtually worldwide, and all economic evidence is that humans are a net asset to the world. While population quadrupled in the 20th century, life expectancy has at the same time increased, doubling since the 19th century, and worldwide per capita food production is nearly 50 percent higher than 50 years ago. A bug researcher, Ehrlich was not and is not an economist — a student of Human Action — and thus fails to take into account the wondrous effects of human ingenuity. The Green Revolution turned previous areas of desolation and privation into bread- (and rice-) baskets; while countless other innovations and discoveries have resulted in the cost of nearly every natural resource falling, indicating their relative abundance.

Today we face the specter of reduced lifestyles in the West and continued privation and poverty in the less developed world as a result of the fearmongering of the global-warming lobby. Led by some of the largest utility companies (including the late Enron) and nuclear power companies like Exelon (see the Huffington Post’s “Internal Memo: Nuclear Power Company Could Make A Billion A Year From Climate Change Law“); and carbon-trading financial titans such as Al Gore, the current worldwide crusade to end access to cheap and efficient energy smears any attempts to question its “consensus:” see for example “EPA May Have Suppressed Report Skeptical Of Global Warming“. The squelched report’s author found the studies the EPA is using to support global warming legislation are at least three years out of date and “global temperatures are roughly where they were in the mid-20th century. They’re not going up, and if anything they’re going down.”

If drug companies and General Mills are to be held to the strictest liability for their claims, ought not the same standard be applied to those who not only make false contentions, but are further able to get legislation enacted severely negatively impacting millions, if not billions, of individuals, while profiting from it themselves? Will we be able to sue Al Gore or any of the utility companies who have spent $51 million in the past six months lobbying for today’s legislative changes, for damages caused by their claims?

For more on the special interests behind today’s fearmongering, see “The Climate-Industrial Complex Some businesses see nothing but profits in the green movement“, and David Theroux’s related blog post, “The Climate-Industrial Complex.”

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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