Some time ago, in a pitiful attempt to attract public interest, economist Paul Krugman pointed a finger at his deceased colleague Milton Friedman, whose opposition to Food and Drug Administration regulations had supposedly endangered the safety of Krugman's salad. Personally, I am happy when there is no bigger news than E. coli or shark attacks, since the risk from both combined are much smaller than the danger I face every time I cross the street. And we could let such sensation-seeking slide when it comes from economically ignorant journalists. But Dr. Krugman does not work for the media and should know better. Public ratings are not the proper concern of the economist. Truth is. You can learn that from Dr. Friedman. And the truth in this case is summed up in the most fundamental lesson we teach our students---No Free Lunch.
There is nothing novel about Krugman's sentiments against corner-cutting producers and merchants, as we can see from the French philosopher Turgot's warnings in the 18th century:
"To expect the government to prevent such fraud from ever occurring would be like wanting it to provide cushions for all the children who might fall. To assume it to be possible to prevent successfully, by regulation, all possible malpractices of this kind is to sacrifice to a chimerical perfection the whole progress of industry; it is to forbid them all new experiments."
Fact: FDA regulation of drugs slows down innovation and prevents life-saving medicines from reaching the sick. This kills millions of Americans (many more than would ever die from unsafe drugs in the absence of bureaucratic control) according to testimonies of Nobel Prize-winning medical researchers.
Do I want my salad safer? Yes. Am I willing to pay for it through higher taxes and prices so that the FDA can check every bag of spinach? Maybe I am. That is only because I can afford it. Putting additional billions of dollars in the FDA means having to spend billions less on other really important issues. If we want more FDA---fine. As long as we are aware of the following: For the rich to have safer salad, millions will not be able to afford salad at all. As an economist I understand my colleague's self-interested lobbyism as something natural. But I cannot stand a hypocrite. Dr. Krugman, at least have the decency to tell your fans that you want your salad's safety to be paid for by the poor.