Who Holds Sway Over the FDA?

Regarding your article on the FDA and human body glue (May), the most startling inconsistency of the FDA which authors seem to miss is that the FDA denies use of a well-studied item for medical purposes shown to have a high safety factor but permits countless items in food additives, colors, and flavors with well-known adverse effects for a huge part of the population. Not only do they allow them, the FDA does not even require that many of these items be stated on the label, causing hardship (and illness) for many.

With food additives, they lower the public health; and by withholding medications, they obfuscate the cure. One can speculate on whose side the FDA stands.

Jack P. Prince, D.D.S.
Tacoma, WA

FDA Diagnosis

Mr. Mathisen's alarmist treatment of the cyanoacrylate debacle (May, "Whatever Happened to Human Body Glue?") was well-researched but illogical. Everybody loves a good old-fashioned bit of muckraking, especially when it involves that lumbering scapegoat, Uncle Sam, and comatose bureaucracies like the FDA. However, credit (and blame) should be laid at the feet of those ultimately responsible for such unfortunate occurrences.

As a regulatory agency, the FDA follows the congressional mandate originally created by the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, and later by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. Granted, that agency has interpreted the law in a questionable manner at times in the past. However, the many benefits afforded American consumers by the FDA go unheralded. The author's attitude seems to be that Americans enjoy the best health care in the world in spite of, rather than because of, the FDA's efforts.

Mr. Mathisen states, "Americans believe they can make responsible assessments of risk independently of government." Such ludicrous statements are common among the uninformed, regardless of the issue. If the lay public and consumer groups were responsible for such decisions, the American health care system would degenerate into a national swap meet of second-rate pharmaceutics and practices of dubious value. If "today's…enlightened, educated public" feels the FDA's actions are "detrimental to (their) health, safety, and general welfare," I assert most Americans, including the author, are ignorant of the benefits of FDA actions. Consider the plight of people living in underdeveloped countries in which those few pharmaceutics available, if not made in the US or another such country, are poorly formulated, manufactured, and labeled.

If we must throw stones because of bureaucratic bumbling, cast them at Congress. It was that hallowed body that originated the Act, that spawned the now-infamous Delaney Amendment outlawing any carcinogenic substance in food or drugs (especially pertinent in the case of cyanoacrylate), and that now sits with ears deaf to the outraged cries of the American public and medical community. Just as one would not logically vent frustration on a law officer for enforcing the law, Americans cannot logically assail the FDA for enforcing laws that are perhaps now antiquated.

Paul W. Pratt, V.M.D.
Santa Barbara, CA

Who's Guilty in Iran?

I was amused at Rothbard's "Collective Guilt in Iran" (Viewpoint, Mar.), wherein he condemned Americans for being angry that American territory and personnel had been seized in Tehran. In a nutshell, his thesis is (a) we should not blame all the Iranians for the crisis, (b) Americans are racist, arrogant, hysterical, jingoist, irrational, imperialist warmongers. Far from living up to Rothbard's 1960s' image of the United States, the latter has behaved with an overabundance of restraint to what amounts to an act of war. Furthermore, it is the Iranians themselves who have poured collective guilt (and insults) on Americans, using the same words as Rothbard's above. Iranians in America, instead of keeping a low profile, have chosen to break our laws, gloatingly supporting the seizure in rallies, and otherwise rubbing our noses in it—and Mr. Rothbard is upset that we are angry with them. Yet, even with all of the above, they have been allowed to depart peacefully (in contrast to the government-sanctioned looting mobs that greeted the departure of Americans in Iran), and asylum has been granted to many who asked for it.

It is curious that he did not criticize the Tehran seizure—almost the whole world has—nor any of the somewhat irrational actions emerging from that bastion of libertarianism. And what is the purpose of the hostages? Ostensibly, the hostages were seized in order to trade them for the shah (blackmail), yet neither the Bahamian, Panamanian, nor Egyptian embassy has been seized, even though the shah has been there for medical treatment. Why? In 1968, the Pueblo was seized by North Korea with the purpose of withdrawing troops from Vietnam into Korea just before the Tet offensive (the US thus having a two-front war). The Tehran provocation would have, ideally, resulted in American military action, thereby providing a justification for peace-loving Russia to have invaded Afghanistan, in order to protect it from Yankee imperialism—having also been invited by the Afghan dictator (just so he could get himself murdered by the Russians). Ideally, again, no international objection would have resulted, and the ayatollah's government would have then crumbled under American action, resulting in a vacuum of power with the Marxist faction possibly stepping in. Khomeini, not playing with a full deck, has repeatedly given the impression that he would welcome an apocalyptic bloodbath. Keep in mind further that it is the Communists themselves who have a long history of violating international law, including the murder of diplomats.

The perpetrators of the hostage crisis probably did not expect that the harshest American action would be an infantile mailing of X-mas cards (again, remember Rothbard's view of Americans). The obvious solution to the crisis would have been a lightning-like rescue a la Mayaguez and Entebbe instead of the one-half-year wait. That would have been the Retief solution. However, "negotiations" is the order of the day, since it has proven time and again to be the security blanket of the unimaginative and has had a long and proven history of successes: Munich, Yalta, SALT, Paris Peace Accords. Now, we are left with the options of abandonment, limited war, major war, embargo, blockade, paying ransom, or counter-blackmail (i.e., "return our people or Iran glows at night"). I know Rothbard is opposed to any measures that will inconvenience Iranians opposing the embassy seizure, but does he have any practical solutions?

Armando Simon
Houston, TX

Whose Prosperity Counts?

I read Tibor Machan's editorial in the May issue with great interest and, for the most part, agreement. However, I became puzzled with the statement that the most powerful, yet unchallenged, premise feeding the anti-business clique is the view that "it is wrong for human beings to seek to prosper in their lives because we all have a duty to enhance, first and foremost, others' lives." Sure, the idea that it's wrong to seek to prosper personally is silly, to say the least. But isn't the whole idea of commerce to prosper personally through serving the needs of others? I mean, the only way I know of to prosper without serving the needs of others (and getting paid for it) is by the use of force—as in robbing a bank or creating confiscatory tax policies.

I should think it would be obvious that the anti-business people are using the premise as quoted as a smoke-screen to hide their real motivations—envy at the prosperity that comes of serving others and the desire to serve self without serving others. This being the case, wouldn't the cause of liberty and commerce be better served by taking back the premise that we have a duty to enhance the lives of others, dusting it off, and reconnecting it with its other half, "that ye may prosper in the land" than by challenging it?

Theresa Holmes
Romulus, MI

Mr. Machan replies: It is true that usually my own prosperity will be gained by providing what some others desire. But suppose I am an artist—a good one—whose work is totally unappreciated by those around me? My true prosperity under these circumstances may well consist in pursuing my artistic excellence in spite of the material hardship occasioned by my not serving the present needs of others. But even if there were no such counterexamples, I still maintain that the cause of liberty would not be helped by focusing on the way in which human beings prosper and turning that into a duty. Because then, one would be open to this line of argument: since each person's primary duty is to serve the needs of others, each should be able to keep, from the proceeds of such service, only so much as is essential to staying alive and fit enough to continue in the service of others; the "excess" must be turned over to others, who are, after all, the primary objects of our moral attentions. That, I submit, spells the opposite of liberty.

Small-Scale Energy

I was pleased to read "Gasohol: The 10% Solution" in your January issue. The State of Arkansas has offered a substantial incentive to the production of gasohol in the state, a full exemption from the 9.5 cent per gallon motor fuels tax for gasohol produced from farm or forest products. The first gasohol plant in the country, using the Chambers process, recently opened in Van Buren, Arkansas, and will be producing about 3 million gallons of alcohol per year. We anticipate many more plants in the coming years.

Your comments on energy balances were to the point, but I would like to add an additional perspective on this issue. The economics and net energy balance of large-scale alcohol facilities may differ substantially from small on-farm systems. Imagine, for example, a farmer using corn to produce alcohol on the farm, feeding the distilled dried grain to his cattle, and using the cattle manure in an anaerobic digester to produce his methane gas to operate the alcohol installation. "Energy balance" in such a system takes on a whole new meaning. I suspect that many farmers will be more impressed with the products of this kind of system than theoretical "energy balance" equations might otherwise indicate.

Paul F. Levy, Director
Arkansas Department of Energy
Little Rock, AR

Desegregation Reply

I fear that you have missed my point with your summary of a news story concerning my testimony in the San Bernardino school case (Trends, May). I have never considered court-ordered school desegregation as constituting "might." In many districts it still poses the only worthwhile means of gaining compliance with the Brown decision. In many other districts, however, it should not be the method of choice. San Bernardino and Los Angeles are two districts where more attention to black schools would be a more viable alternative.

Derrick Bell, Professor of Law
University of Washington
Seattle, WA

Moral Objections

I do not expect ever to challenge Tibor Machan on moral philosophy or even to challenge his contention that libertarians need a "clearly conceived and articulated moral frame of reference." However, I think it is time to blow the whistle when he insists that everybody who tries to write on any aspect of freedom must articulate such a frame of reference as a part of his presentation. This is what he seems to be saying in his review (Apr.) of Milton and Rose Friedman's book and television series, Free To Choose.

I am not defending the mistakes the Friedmans made in their effort to show that the free market achieves the statists' declared goals better than the statists' own declared means. I agree with some of Professor Machan's criticisms, and I have others that he overlooked. What I am objecting to is misplaced purism, of which Professor Machan's demand for an articulated moral framework for all libertarian efforts is but one minor example.

It is not even necessary to have a clearly conceived moral framework (much less to articulate it) to observe as a matter of fact that, for instance, theft adds nothing to an economy. Nor is it necessary in devising means of protection against thieves for us to agree whether theft is immoral.

Carrying this to a broader dispute among libertarians,…it is not necessary to choose between the so-called "anarchist" and "minarchist" positions at a time when the chances of achieving even a reduction to the old "limited government" goals seems far in the future.

Similarly we find a great deal of ink spilled by those (including Friedman) who worry about cutting off government aid programs too quickly and those who decry such talk as "gradualism." Gradualism is built into the system we're fighting, and there's little danger that any government program would be cut away too quickly no matter how hard we try.

Differences on ultimate goals should be aired, of course, but they should be recognized as contingent and secondary to those intermediate goals we all agree upon, and particularly those which are ripe for immediate action.

Philip M. Carden
Nashville, TN