FREE TO CHOOSE “Who protects the consumer?” Video and Transcript Part 5 of 7 “The most anti-consumer measures on our statute books are restrictions on foreign trade.”


In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, and – Power of the Market.

From the original Free To Choose series Milton asks: “Who Protects the Consumer?”. Many government agencies have been created for this purpose, yet they do so by restricting freedom and stifling beneficial innovation, and eventually become agents for the groups they have been created to regulate.

Milton Friedman rightly noted, “The most anti-consumer measures on our statute books are restrictions on foreign trade.”
Pt 5
MCKENZIE: Milton, I don’t quite understand your position on this. Are you saying, though, that there’s no place for government to test consumer product safety at all?
FRIEDMAN: I am saying, lets separate issues. I am saying there is no place for government to prohibit consumers from buying products, the effect of which will be to harm themselves. There is, of course, a place __
MCKENZIE: But how do they know that effect?
FRIEDMAN: Well, for a moment I’m trying to separate the issues. There is a place for government to protect third parties. If we go to your automobile case __
CLAYBROOK: Well, how about children? Children don’t __ aren’t choosers.
FRIEDMAN: No, no.
CLAYBROOK: They don’t make choices because they ride in the cars.
FRIEDMAN: The parents make their choices. But let’s go __
O’REILLY: But if the industry has it there’s no choice.
FRIEDMAN: We can only take one issue at a time. We’re a little difficult to take them all at once. Let’s take one at a time. I say there is no place for government to require me to do something to protect myself.
(Applause)
FRIEDMAN: Now if government has information __
MCKENZIE: Has of obtains?
FRIEDMAN: __ for a moment, suppose it has information, then it should make that public and available. The next question is: are there circumstances under which it’s appropriate for government to collect information? There may be some such circumstances. They have to be considered one at a time. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. But you see, I want to get back. Take your area Miss Claybrook, you are now involved on the airbag problem.
CLAYBROOK: That’s right.
FRIEDMAN: If I understand the situation, I don’t know anything about the technical aspects of it, but the airbag, in a car, is there to protect me as a driver. It doesn’t prevent me from having an accident, hurting somebody else because it’s only activated by an accident. All right then, why shouldn’t I make that decision? Who are you to tell me that I have to spend whatever it is, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred dollars on that airbag.
CLAYBROOK: Well we don’t tell you that. What we say is that when a car crashes into a brick wall at 30 miles an hour, the front seat occupants have to have automatic protection built into that car.
FRIEDMAN: Have to, why have to?
CLAYBROOK: And it’s a very __ it’s a very minimal __
FRIEDMAN: Why have to? I don’t care whether it’s an airbag or a seatbelt.
CLAYBROOK: The reason why __ well, there are two reasons why. One is that the sanctity of life is a fairly precious entity in this country.
FRIEDMAN: It’s more precious to me than it is to you. My life is more precious to me than to you.
MCKENZIE: Well, you know.
CLAYBROOK: Do you wear you seatbelt?
FRIEDMAN: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.
CLAYBROOK: I see. Well then it couldn’t be too precious to you because if it were you’d wear it all the time.
FRIEDMAN: I beg you pardon.
CLAYBROOK: Yes.
FRIEDMAN: Other things are precious too.
CLAYBROOK: Yes. Okay, but wearing your seatbelt is a relatively simple thing to go into.
FRIEDMAN: But now my question is __ but I want an answer, a direct answer.
CLAYBROOK: But there is a very __ there’s a very basic reason why.
FRIEDMAN: Yes.
CLAYBROOK: And it’s because a person does not know when they buy a car what that car is gonna do when it performs in various and sundry different ways. That’s number one. Number two, there’s a basic minimum standard, it’s performance standard. It’s not a requirement that you have certain pieces of products in your cars, but it’s a basic performance standard built into your car that when you buy it no one’s going to have less than that. So that you don’t have people needlessly injured on the highway, the cost to society, the cost to the individuals, the trauma to their families and so on. You’re suggesting theoretically that it’s much better to let people go out and kill themselves even though they really don’t know that that’s what’s gonna happen to them when they have that crash.
FRIEDMAN: Excuse me. You’re evading the fundamental issue. If you have the information, give it to them. The question is not a question of giving them the information. The question is what is your right to force somebody to spend money to protect his own life, not anybody else, but only himself and the next question I’m gonna ask you: do you doubt for a moment that prohibiting alcohol would save far more lives on the highways than an airbag, seatbelts and everything else, and on what grounds are you opposed to prohibition on grounds of principle or only because you don’t think you can get it by the legislature?
CLAYBROOK: I’m opposed to prohibition because I don’t think it’s gonna work. That’s the reason I’m opposed to it.
FRIEDMAN: But suppose it would work? I want to get to the __ I want to get to the principle.
CLAYBROOK: Can I answer you __ sure.
FRIEDMAN: I want to __ suppose you could believe it would work. Suppose you could believe__
MCKENZIE: Prohibition?
FRIEDMAN: Prohibition could work. Would you be in favor of it?
CLAYBROOK: No. What I am in favor of is building products __ I am in favor of building products so that at least they service the public.
FRIEDMAN: I was fascinated by some of the initial comments. Everybody agrees that the old agencies are bad, but the new agencies that we haven’t had a chance ___
MCKENZIE: No. You’re trying to sweep them into your net. They didn’t agree to that. But anyway __ hole on to your point.
O’REILLY: When you talk about __ the basic principle is: give me the information. Let me choose for myself. If that’s the ultimate goal, why is it that in any hearings that you’ve every gone to and I beg anyone to find me an exception, whether it’s airbags or DES, saccharine, whatever, you never; you never have the victims of the injury who lost their arm because of a lawnmower, standing up and saying “thank God that you gave me the right to become incapacitated.” Never do you hear a victim thanking the government for backing off. Never do you hear the victim of an anti-competitive action thanking the Justice Department for not bring a suit.
MCKENZIE: Dr. Landau, I promised you could make an observation on that without going into great detail.
LANDAU: Now, when DES was used to preserve pregnancies in women 25 and 30 years ago, there was absolutely zero evidence that it would cause cancer in anybody, certainly not in the children of the women who were pregnant and for you to say that it is __
O’REILLY: Then you’re ignoring the 1941 studies that show just that.
LANDAU: There is no 1941 study. This happens to be my area of expertise, I’m an endocrinologist. There was nothing.
O’REILLY: Well, there are a lot __
MCKENZIE: Now let’s not go any further down that road.
CRANDALL: Let me ask you __ yeah, let me ask Miss O’Reilly a question. I don’t see __ if the problem in drugs is that there is a lack of competition, there are a number of drug companies in the United States __
O’REILLY: That’s one of them.
CRANDALL: __ and around the world; and a lack of innovation, how regulation, which is designed to keep products off the market, that is further restrict the supply of drugs is going to enhance either competition or innovation; as a matter of fact, everything that I have learned in economics would tell me that that is likely to reduce innovation and reduce competition. And one of the great benefits of drug regulation is that if I’m a pharmaceutical company with an old tried and true drug on the market, I really want the FDA to keep new drugs off the market. It will enhance the market value of that drug. I think that’s the lesson that you learn from government regulation, whether it’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation of fuel economy standards, be it drugs, be it pollution controls, their effect is anti-competitive, it’s not pro-competitve at all.
FRIEDMAN: It I go on with Bob’s point for just a moment. He and I, I’m sure, and all economists would agree that the most effective way to stimulate competition would be to have complete free trade and eliminate tariffs. The most anti-consumer measures on our statute books are restrictions on foreign trade.
MCKENZIE: Milton __
FRIEDMAN: Has the Consumer Federation of America testified against tariffs?
O’REILLY: We haven’t even been asked to.
(Laughter)

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