Open letter to President Obama (Part 562) FREE TO CHOOSE “Who protects the consumer?” Video and Transcript Part 4 of 7 “It’s time all of us stopped being fooled by those well-meaning bureaucrats who claim to protect us because they say we can’t protect ourselves.”

Open letter to President Obama (Part 562) (Emailed to White House on July 15, 2013)

President Obama c/o The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you for trying to get a pulse on what is going on out here.

________________

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 correctly noted, “It’s time all of us stopped being fooled by those well-meaning bureaucrats who claim to protect us because they say we can’t protect ourselves.”
Pt 4
Nowadays, there are Corvair fan clubs throughout the country. Corvair’s have become collector items. Consumers have given their verdict on Ralph Nader and the government regulations. As Abraham Lincoln said, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. It’s time all of us stopped being fooled by those well-meaning bureaucrats who claim to protect us because they say we can’t protect ourselves. The men and women who have fostered this movement have been sincere. They believe that we as consumers are not able to protect ourselves. That we need the help of a wise and effervescent government. But as so often happens the results have been very different from the intentions. Not only have our pockets been picked of billions of dollars, but also we are left less well protected than we were before.
DISCUSSION
Participants: Robert McKenzie, Moderator; Milton Friedman; Kathleen O’Reilly, Consumer Federation of America; Richard Landau, Professor of Medicine, University of Chicago; Joan Claybrook, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Robert Crandall, Brookings Institute
MCKENZIE: Now back at the University of Chicago the consumerists, themselves, get their chance to argue their case.
O’REILLY: I agree with Mr. Friedman with respect to those agencies which have had the major purpose of economically propping up a certain industry which is why consumer advocates like myself advocate the elimination of the ICC, the CAB, the Maritime Commission. But when you’re talking about consumer protection in the marketplace and when you’re talking about government watchdog in competition, consumers need and as every poll is showing, they’re demanding more and more protection. And to give just two examples of how information is simply not enough to protect the consumer, five years ago I could not have bought a child’s crib in this country that would have had the slats sufficiently close together that I did not have to worry about the child strangling. Not until the government and the Consumer Product Safety Commission stepped in did consumers then have the choice to buy that type of a crib, strangulation’s down 50 percent. And in 1975, if I had wanted to lease a Xerox machine, I could not have done it. And not until the Federal Trade Commission antitrust stepped in and forced competition into that marketplace did I have that choice and in one year the price went from 14,000 dollars to 5,000 dollars. Those are dollars back in our pocketbooks to say nothing of minimized emotional trauma.
MCKENZIE: Well, before we ask Milton Friedman to come back on that, lets establish the viewpoint of our other participants and experts. Dr. Richard Landau, what’s your reaction?
LANDAU: Well I think the cost is certainly outrageously large and the benefits are trivial if any. I think that perhaps Milton overstates it slightly to make his point, but basically I would have to agree with it in the area that I know best, which is the regulation of new drug development.
MCKENZIE: And Joan Claybrook.
CLAYBROOK: Well in the auto safety field we’ve saved about 55,000 lives and millions of injuries because of auto safety regulations since the mid_1960s. I might also comment that the cost of auto crashes each year, the American public is 48 billion dollars a year, fairly substantial when you compare it to other things, much less, again, the human trauma.
MCKENZIE: Bob Crandall.
CRANDALL: Well I think it’s impossible to disagree with Milton Friedman on the effects of economic rate regulation of the sort that the railroads and the trucking industry have been through. The intent of that legislation was, of course, to protect the railroad and to protect the trucks, and the same thing is true for maritime regulation. What sustains regulation is sort of a populist theory that somehow through government we will redistribute wealth from people who own business firms to consumers. In fact it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way in economic regulation and there’s very little evidence that it works that way in any kind of regulation. As to whether we get any value from health and safety regulation, I think much of it is too new to know.
MCKENZIE: Well now that’s the area I want to start with because remember that was the first part of his argument. The whole idea of consumer product safety action by the state. Now, is that so far working? Very close to your interest I know. What’s your reaction, Kathleen O’Reilly?
O’REILLY: Well in product safety in the state of that, the lawnmower industry had said for twenty years they could not design a safe lawnmower. Only when the Consumer Product Safety Commission forced them with the new standard suddenly their creative genius was overnight. They came up with net whips that were made out of plastic and they came up with very innovative forces. Which is why __ where that government presence actually triggered innovation that otherwise would have been left uncovered.
FRIEDMAN: It’s very easy to see the good results. The bad result it’s very much harder to see. You haven’t mentioned the products that aren’t there because the extra cost imposed by Consumer Product Safety Commission have prevented them from existing. You haven’t mentioned the case of the triss (phonetic) problem on the flammable garments. Here you had a clear case where the __ regulation of the CPSC essentially had the effect of requiring all manufacturers of children’s sleepwear to impregnate them with triss.
O’REILLY: Oh, but that’s not true at all.
FRIEDMAN: Three years __ five years later the regulation required that garments to be nonflammable and as it happened, triss was the most readily available chemical which could do it.
MCKENZIE: Kathleen O’Reilly.
O’REILLY: It’s absolutely not true.
FRIEDMAN: But let me finish the story first. Because the second half of the story is the important part of it. It turned out that triss was a carcinogen. And five years later or three years later, I’m not sure the exact time, the same agency had to prohibit the use of those sleepwear garments forcing them to be disposed of at great cost to everybody concerned.
O’REILLY: All right, lets look at the real interesting history here. In 1968, when Congress passed the Flammable Fabric Act, they did not tell the CPSC what chemicals would comply with that and what would not. And so initially when industry said, “we’re going to use triss,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission, from their initial tests, were disturbed by it and had announced informally to industry that they were not going to allow triss to be used. Industry balked and said, “we’re gonna to take you to court because the Act only says it has to be flame retardant.” You, the government, cannot tell us how to comply. And it was the industry that forced the hand of CPSC away. And they don’t even deny that now.
FRIEDMAN: I’m not trying to defend the industry. Go slowly. I am not pro-industry. I am pro-consumer. I’m like you. I’m not pro-industry. and, of course, industry will do a lot of bad things. The whole question at issue is what mechanism is more effective in protecting the interests of the consumers, the disbursed, widespread forces of the market. Take the case of the flammable fabrics, suppose you had not had the requirements.
MCKENZIE: But you believe it was right to test them, don’t you? For a government agency to test it?
FRIEDMAN: No, not at all.
MCKENZIE: No, no.
FRIEDMAN: There are private consumer testing agencies. There’s the Consumers Research. There’s Consumers Union. You speak about a widespread demand for more protection, those agencies have never __ those organizations __
CLAYBROOK: Oh, of course, they have all these publications on cars __
FRIEDMAN: Of course.
CLAYBROOK:__ but what they do is they test the brakes and steering. They never crash test them and the most important thing to know about a car when you buy it is if the car crashes are you going to be killed unnecessarily?
FRIEDMAN: The reason they __
CLAYBROOK: You can’t even get that information.
FRIEDMAN: But the reason they don’t test __
CLAYBROOK: It’s too expensive, that’s the reason why.
FRIEDMAN: Of course. Anyway it is too expensive for them because the number of consumers who are willing to buy their service and take it is very, very small.
CLAYBROOK: That is not why. The reason why is because it’s enormously expensive.
FRIEDMAN: Of course, but if they had a large enough number of customers, if there were enough customers, enough consumers who wanted the __
CLAYBROOK: Yes, but that’s a chicken and egg situation which is ridiculous.
FRIEDMAN: It’s not a chicken and egg situation. The whole situation __
CLAYBROOK: If you believe that technological information is important for consumer to have, which is that basis ad the thesis of your argument, surely that you would say that one of the things that society does as it groups together to provide basic services to the public; police, traffic services, all sorts of basic kinds of things, the mail service and the fire service and all the rest of it. Why is that they shouldn’t even do testing of technological subjects which the public has no way of knowing?
MCKENZIE: Before you reply, I want one or two others in on this, Bob Crandall.
CRANDALL: It seems to me that Professor Friedman could give a little bit on this ground. Certainly in the dissemination of information there’s a free rider problem. And one of the problems is that while you and I might value the results from a Consumer Union rather highly, we don’t have to pay for it. We can look over the shoulder of someone else, borrow the magazine from the library and so forth. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the government should not at all be in the business of generating information though I am concerned about exactly the same forces, this evil industry that Miss O’Reilly talks about, having its influence on how this information is prepared. I don’t see how we guard ourselves against that.
FRIEDMAN: We don’t
CRANDALL: But it seems to me that there is a case to be made that the market does not supply enough information.
FRIEDMAN: It may not. But the market supplies a great deal and there is also a free rider problem in the negative sense on government provision of information because people who have no use for that information are required to pay for it.

 

________________

Thank you so much for your time. I know how valuable it is. I also appreciate the fine family that you have and your commitment as a father and a husband.

Sincerely,

Everette Hatcher III, 13900 Cottontail Lane, Alexander, AR 72002, ph 501-920-5733, lowcostsqueegees@yahoo.com

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