Paul Krugman — Milton Friedman To Blame For E. Coli
First things first, I might as well just point you over to Cafe Hayek. Russ Roberts takes Paul Krugman apart, and does all the heavy lifting.
What did Krugman say? Since it’s behind the TimesSelect firewall, I can’t really get it directly, but here’s a portion of it:
These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and melamine in your petâ€™s food and, because it was in the feed, in your chicken sandwich.
Whoâ€™s responsible for the new fear of eating? Some blame globalization; some blame food-producing corporations; some blame the Bush administration. But I blame Milton Friedman.
Good for you, Paul. Who’s really to blame for fear of eating? I blame the sensationalist media. After all, when I gave up my TV for two months, I had a lot less stress in my life about E. Coli, world affairs, etc. I also blame a public school system that doesn’t teach kids the basics of probability, critical thinking, and statistics. You see? We can both look at something we hate, and manufacture reasons why they’re to blame for this!
What are Krugman’s reasons?
This isnâ€™t simply a matter of caving in to industry pressure. The Bush administration wonâ€™t issue food safety regulations even when the private sector wants them. The president of the United Fresh Produce Association says that the industryâ€™s problems â€œcanâ€™t be solved without strong mandatory federal regulationsâ€: without such regulations, scrupulous growers and processors risk being undercut by competitors more willing to cut corners on food safety. Yet the administration refuses to do more than issue nonbinding guidelines.
Thatâ€™s why I blame the food safety crisis on Milton Friedman, who called for the abolition of both the food and the drug sides of the F.D.A. What would protect the public from dangerous or ineffective drugs? â€œItâ€™s in the self-interest of pharmaceutical companies not to have these bad things,â€ he insisted in a 1999 interview. He would presumably have applied the same logic to food safety (as he did to airline safety): regardless of circumstances, you can always trust the private sector to police itself.
As Russ Roberts points out, this isn’t evidence that Bush is accepting Friedman’s teachings. After all, Friedman would look at his spending, at NCLB, at Medicare Part D, and see abject failure in every case. Even when Bush has attempted to do something that might enhance freedom, such as an attempt to bring in school choice, or to privatize Social Security, it turns into a watered-down big government program, or a non-starter. Heck, as I’ve pointed out, I oppose Bush’s plans for Social Security with a pejorative description: Social Security Part D.
But to take Krugman’s bait misses the point. The amazing thing is that you can go into a store anywhere in the United States, buy some spinach, beef, and milk, and yet you’ll have such a tiny chance of contracting E. Coli, Mad Cow, or listeria that you don’t even have to think about it. Back in the days before a free market, you’d be lucky to buy any of those things at all. In fact, you’d only be able to afford them if you were rich. Not only that, you wouldn’t know if they were good or not. Chris Rock, in one of his comedy bits, mentions that eating pork isn’t really immoral, it was simply a religious rule for preservation of the species. After all, back in the day, a pork chop could kill you. Now we trust our food companies so much that you can eat raw beef carpaccio without fear. Back in the day, everyone drank beer constantly because most water in major metropolitan cities was infected. Boiling the water to make beer killed the bacteria in the water, and the resultant alcohol of fermentation inhibited its growth. Now you trust what comes out of your tap, but buy fancy bottled water anyway.
It wasn’t the government that brought you these things, it was government staying out of the way allowing smart people to work for profit.
But even more insane is the idea that things are getting worse… Russ Roberts pokes a hole in that one as well:
The other part I like is the implication that until the evil free market Bush administration got in power, we had a safe food supply.
FYI, Paul, there were major E. coli outbreaks in the US in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1999. There was also one in January and February of 1993, but I won’t count that one. I’ll blame that one on the Friedman-influenced Bush the First.
In 1996, there were major outbreaks in the Friedman-dominated free market anarchist utopias of Germany, Scotland and Japan.
Maybe we can blame the German one on Hayek, the Scottish on Adam Smith, and the Japanese on one of their premier free-market economists?
Or we could realize that we don’t live in a world that’s 100% safe, and that no amount of money government spends, nor number of laws they write, will change that.