Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Feature: Topical issues, starting with Ron Paul

After more than a decade of preferring perennial issues of libertarianism, I've decided that Ron Paul is noxious enough to justify beginning topical entries on my front page of Critiques Of Libertarianism.

Ron Paul: Quackery enabler
Orac's heavily linked post at Respectful Insolence is a good starting place for why Ron Paul is a loon. No other candidate sets off the alarms of skeptics for science, medicine, economics, racism, and religion the way Ron Paul does.


Glen said...

The article you linked didn't do much for me. It's true that :(a) quacks manage to make some bogus health claims despite all the existing restrictions and (b) some could and would make more bogus claims if restrictions are fewer, but it's also true that if restrictions were fewer: (c) some true health information would be permitted through the nets that's currently blocked and (d) some false information would be more easily exposed and debunked. Whether the net effect is positive seems like an empirical matter but as long as it's purely theoretical people can reasonably hold conflicting views on the subject. (I tend to favor the view that in this instance - as in so many others - the answer to bad speech is more speech rather than enforcing speech restrictions.)

Still, as long as you've got a Ron Paul category, you might want to follow Megan McArdle's recent musings. She's been slamming him with some regularity lately, from a mostly-free-market perspective. For instance, there's Ron Paul on Taxes and followups such as I wish and while I'm at it...

I think the latest salvo started around here.

Glen said...

BTW, one example of (d): I used to regularly hear radio ads for some pill as providing "all the goodness of garlic -- without the odor!" These ads never actually specified what the alleged goodness of garlic was supposed to be. If manufacturers were allowed to make claims like that more explicit, it would be easier for the claims to be definitively either verified or debunked. Right now the people who make quack medicines have a semi-decent excuse for being unreasonably vague about what they expect their nostrums to do; I'd like that excuse to go away. A freer market in health information might help.

Also, if any manufacturer honestly believes that, say, beer has useful nutritive value, I'd like to know about it. Even if there's only one study supporting it and that study is weak. Claims that can't legally be made by manufacturers or resellers can't be definitively verified or struck down - they tend to stay in the realm of rumor or gossip, passed along via gullible quackery fans at health-food stores and popular-press magazine articles.

Mike Huben said...

"Whether the net effect is positive seems like an empirical matter but as long as it's purely theoretical..."

Glen, that's got to be one of the stupidest things you've ever said, and we've been arguing for well over a decade.

It's not purely theoretical: we have tons of historical and epidemiological evidence. As John Quiggan (an Australian economist) wrote: "It seems strange to make a priori arguments about the relative performance of governments and the markets in health care when there is so much empirical evidence."

And your whole approach has been well described:
"But the stupidity which is common to all such "explanations" is, of course, simply that of proceeding as though the merits of a theory--such things as truth, or probability, or explanatory power--could not possibly be among the reasons for its currency."
David Stove, Against The Idols Of The Age, 1999

Mike Huben said...

"If manufacturers were allowed to make claims like that more explicit, it would be easier for the claims to be definitively either verified or debunked."

Wake up and look at the real world, Glen. The claims are widely available in magazines, and are widely debunked. See the QuackWatch sites for examples.

In the past, debunkings of one product meant that the manufacturers simply changed names, labels and claims, and did the same thing all over again.

Because of government regulation, health fraud needs to cross the hurdle of getting false medical claims to customers indirectly. Not a perfect solution, but better than yours: nothing.

Beer does have useful nutrition, if only the calories. No debate there. It would help if you understood your arguments well enough to make them correctly

Glen said...

Libertarians such as myself tend to assume there's a sort of baptist/bootlegger alliance behind the laws we dislike. When a law is proposed there is always a cover story providing a plausible explanation as to why that law would be a good idea. The actual reason the law gets proposed and enacted occasionally has something to do with that story, but it's not necessarily the way to bet.

What you've offered up is also a standard argument category; it's essentially an argument for maintaining the status quo on the grounds that there must have been a good reason for it. The obvious countermove would be to note that "everything is different now", so your allegedly supportive tons of historical and epidemiological evidence is not relevant. For instance, I could note that in the internet era it's trivial for consumers and retailers to look up info that previously would have been harder to find. It's also harder for manufacturers to "change names, labels and claims" now that (a) consumers and retailers can look up and share info online, and (b) built-up reputational capital tends to be a company's largest and most fragile asset (for example). We aren't quite to the point where Joe Consumer can be assumed to check claims by browsing wikipedia on his iPhone at point-of-purchase, but we're moving in that direction. Hence, regulations written in an era that assumes customers were helpless and ignorant and needed protection by The State are less supportable today than in times past.

The main debate over beer was in regards to whether manufacturers can legally describe the nutritive value of their product. For instance, can a brewer that makes a more nutritious beer tell people this on the package? Why not?

bi said...

Glen, so you insist on seeing an evil conspiracy behind every proposed law, even when there's absolutely no evidence is an evil conspiracy? That's remarkably bereft of fact. Then again, you don't offer any facts to support his thesis, and the only fact you bring up is totally irrelevant (Tylenol is a real medicine, so your "example" tells us exactly nothing about what quack doctors actually do when they're exposed).

= = =

Now, back to Ron Paul. I'm still amused that in his interview by Google, he said that we should "redo" the statistics on climate science.

Mike Huben said...

Wow, Glen, you're showing your age. "Everything is different now" is so ten years ago, when the internet was new.

We know now that plenty of things are the same. And people's gullibility for fraud certainly hasn't changed. The internet has just made the fraud easier. Just as Nigerian scams are easier now than they were 20 years ago, so health product scams are easier.

If the entire nutritional supplements industry vanished, nobody would suffer.