Disabilities Liabilities

The article on the Americans with Disabilities Act ("Unreasonable Accommodations," August/September) by Brian Doherty is interesting. However, he failed to suggest the logical Pareto optimal solution. The cost of these changes is immense and the benefit to the wheelchair users is modest. Some time ago I got an estimate of the cost per wheelchair in the United States at $80,000. With the expansion of the actual function of the ADA, and its inflation, I would guess it is currently about $100,000. Would people in wheelchairs prefer $50,000 a year in cash?

Gordon Tullock
Karl Eller Professor of Economics and Political Science
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ

I enjoyed Brian Doherty's article on the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I think he is actually too kind to the ADA. In an essay in the April 1995 issue of The Freeman, I predicted on the basis of elementary economic theory that the act would increase discrimination against the disabled and reduce the demand for and employment of disabled persons, contrary to the pious intent of the law's authors and despite the penalties of the act. Now Mr. Doherty reports what I was unaware of at the time: two studies that show exactly such an employment reduction.

Mr. Doherty is certainly correct in cautioning that other factors affect employment of any group, and such factors, rather than the ADA, might be the cause of the observed employment reductions. I think he goes too far in asserting that the ADA might actually have had a positive effect on disabled employment in the absence of such factors. I see nothing about the ADA that would act in that direction, and every reason for believing it would have the effects I predicted and which the data show.

Something neither Mr. Doherty nor I focused on should also be stressed in some future essay: The ADA not only grossly violates the rights of voluntary contract of employers but places stringent restrictions on the sort of employment interview questions that can be asked, thus violating their basic rights of free speech.

James Ralph Edwards
Associate Professor of Economics
Montana State University-Northern
Havre, MT

Being a blind "reader" of REASON, I feel especially qualified to respond to "Unreasonable Accommodations."

A Buddhist parable tells of an emperor whose servants had been complaining about how walking on the stones of the street hurt their feet. The emperor was about to order all of his cattle slaughtered and their hides used to carpet the roads when a wise man suggested slaughtering only a few cattle and making shoes for the servants instead. The emperor took the advice. If our government were as wise, it would not try to carpet the ground by, for instance, harassing store and restaurant proprietors to build ramps, nor by forcing publishers to produce their print materials in alternative formats.

Where adaptive technology is the solution, it will ultimately be far easier, cheaper, and more satisfactory to supply shoes for the disabled, such as wheelchairs that can climb stairs and electronic reading machines for the blind (both of which exist).

Ironically, despite repeated attempts for the last few decades, the federal government itself has been completely unwilling to budge and make a "reasonable accommodation" for the one item that it has exclusive power to produce: the legal tender of this nation. An essential characteristic of money is that one denomination can be distinguished from another. The U.S. Treasury insists that such a distinction can only be based on a rather subtle visual difference in the bills, which are all the same size, color, and basic design. Almost every other country has provided their paper currency with tactile indicators of the denomination for those who can't see. For our government to make similar alterations to its bills would be a small expense, yet the benefits for the employability and general convenience for the blind and visually impaired would be enormous.

Any lawyer who would be interested in representing me in suing the U.S. Treasury Department for violating the "reasonable accommodations" provision of the ADA should contact me about this matter.

Peter Seymour
Hoboken, NJ

As Brian Doherty points out, enough time has elapsed since the effective date of the Americans with Disabilities Act to observe its idiocy in full bloom. As a lawyer, I peruse the Bureau of National Affairs' Daily Labor Report to check the summaries of the latest on the employment-law front. We are paying dearly in terms of real economic waste, not to mention the damage to our character.

While I certainly have no quarrel with Mr. Doherty's empirical evidence, I do wish to take issue with his emphasis. Mr. Doherty states toward the end of the piece that the principled argument against the ADA is that it violates free association. To libertarians, this is the most compelling condemnation of the ADA. He should have led with this argument with all guns blazing instead of having it nestled comfortably and inconspicuously in the back of the bus.

I also take issue with his statement in the same paragraph that, unlike more-traditional civil rights law (by which, I assume, he means race and sex discrimination laws), the ADA sometimes forces people to bear huge costs. Mr. Doherty seems to be suggesting that there can be benign intrusions on liberty. Such is not the case and certainly not with even the more-traditional–as he calls it–strains of anti-discrimination law. Such laws may not expressly provide for accommodation, but there is no question that is how they are being enforced. The disparate-impact theory of discrimination necessarily means that an employer must modify even reasonable business practices to keep the numbers acceptable. And then there is affirmative action. All of this costs plenty. One need only notice the fortunes being made by those shakedown artists calling themselves "diversity consultants" to get some picture of the extent of the productive resources being wasted on those uncodified accommodations.

And, of course, none of these benign intrusions on our associational freedoms have improved ethnic or gender relations. The frequently bitter debate over affirmative action and the plethora of crybaby sexual-harassment lawsuits show that such relations are as inflamed as ever.

No, Mr. Doherty, benign intrusions don't work either. Only freedom works.

David West
Encino, CA

Prognosis Negative

No one who seriously examines the FDA reform proposal of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America could characterize it as easy on the FDA ("Prescription Remedies," by Rick Henderson, August/September). PhRMA advocates:

· Requiring the FDA to expedite the review of new drugs that have been approved in the United Kingdom, whose drug-approval agency has standards similar to ours.

· Eliminating much of the red tape FDA now requires by permitting companies to submit certified summaries of clinical tests rather than truckloads of paper.

· Requiring the agency to use outside experts for review of new drug applications.

· Allowing freer dissemination of information about the legitimate uses of medicines.

As to permitting FDA to "maintain its monopoly" over approvals, in our opinion, only the federal government should make final approval of new drugs. That does not mean, however, that we do not want fundamental reform. We believe our proposals would achieve that.

Gerald J. Mossinghoff
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
Washington, DC

Reading "Prescription Remedies," I noted one error and one suspect theory. Someone has drafted comprehensive FDA reform legislation: Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). His bill (HR 1742) was hailed by a number of industry groups as a significant step forward in the debate.

With regard to rumors about Wyden's alleged senatorial motive for introducing FDA reform legislation, sounds like a goofy theory to me. "Help drug companies get their products to market quicker and cheaper" is hardly the advice a competent Democratic political consultant would give a prospective Senate candidate–in Oregon, anyway. Wyden's doing it because he knows a heck of a lot about FDA, it's the right thing to do, and the timing doesn't get any better than this.

Absent those items, an excellent piece. I'll distribute it as a primer on FDA reform.

Josh Kardon
Chief of Staff
Office of Rep. Ron Wyden
Washington, DC