Counter Argument

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute is siding with pharmaceutical companies who say their products should not be switched from prescription to over-the-counter status unless they request the change. The issue was raised by a petition in which WellPoint Health Networks asked the Food and Drug Administration to make several allergy drugs available without a prescription. The manufacturers opposed the switch.

Clearly, there are financial interests on both sides of this controversy. Insurers, which usually do not cover over-the-counter drugs, are trying to minimize their costs. Drug companies, which may calculate that they can make more by selling fewer units at a higher, insurer-subsidized price, are trying to maximize their profits. As for consumers, those with drug coverage end up paying more when a drug moves to the OTC category, while those without drug coverage save money as the price goes down.

But the appropriate policy should not be based on the question of whose ox is gored. Does a drug maker have a right, as CEI suggests, to keep its products in the prescription-only category? CEI says it's wrong for the FDA "to force drug manufacturers to switch prescription-only drugs to over-the-counter." Yet the FDA would not be forcing drug manufacturers to do anything. It would be lifting a legal requirement that restricts consumer freedom. It would be making the market for drugs a little bit freer by allowing people to obtain a few more of them without getting permission from a government-appointed gatekeeper. It's hard to see why CEI, which has an admirable record of supporting economic freedom and opposing paternalism, would want to maintain such barriers.

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  1. It’s hard to see why CEI, which has an admirable record of supporting economic freedom and opposing paternalism, would want to maintain such barriers.

    Beg pardon? When the CEI churns out twice-weekly “think pieces” advocating all sorts of bluntly pro-Chamber-of-Commerce corporate welfare programs, they somehow pass as laissez-faire. But when they side with pharmaceutical companies in a way that conflicts with one of your pet peeves–drug regulation–it’s some kind of anomaly?

    Regardless of the slogans and buzzwords they plaster all over their publications and their website, the CEI is about as ideology-driven as the UAW. The only consistent “viewpoint” you’ll get out of the CEI is the notion that a corporation is incapable of doing harm and that any move by government to protect anyone or anything from a corporation is a feebleminded, misanthropic crime against humanity.

    Sometimes their stance coincides with good policy and common sense and a benefit to all, and other times their stance coincides with dumping vats of acid in rivers and promoting de facto slavery in developing countries. Whatever helps the bottom line of their client du jour.

    Do you really need to be told that?

  2. s.m. koppelman,

    Did I miss something? I checked out your two links. The “all sorts of bluntly pro-Chamber-of-Commerce” one went to a CEI column arguing against what the author considers over-regulation (and downright prohibition) of genetically engineered products. It hardly seems like in doing so “they somehow pass as laissez-faire.”

    The “corporate welfare programs” link is to a column calling for oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. If drillers get to do it at prices that are below market, or if they are exempted from normal laws, that would certainly be corporate welfare. But the article doesn’t seem to be advocating that.

  3. I’d say arguing that research and release of GMO crops and animals is harmless and shouldn’t be regulated–when GM soy and corn crops are cross-pollinating with crowding out unmodified strains as I write this–is a pretty disingenuous argument at best, one that can probably be traced back to generous grants and rounds of golf courtesy Monsanto.

    And as for the second article, I didn’t even blink when the author called global warming “pseudoscience”. The real howler for me was the passage “Opening ANWR would be a victory for rational public policy. It would prove ? for the thousandth time ? that oil production is compatible with good stewardship”.

    No. It would be the first time.

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