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Agenda for the 116th Congress: Consumer Freedom

The second-to-last chapter in the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s agenda for the 116th Congress focuses on consumer freedom. Specifically, the chapter recommends ways Congress can rein in federal agencies from infringing on adults’ right to decide how they spend their money and what they put in their own bodies. On a fundamental level, these reforms are necessary to preserve individuals’ ability to assess and make choices about what risks they are willing to take to live the lives they want. Put in other words, it’s about individual liberty.

In the past, most lawmakers, to some degree, held that free societies ought respect adults’ autonomy, even if adults use that autonomy to make choices deemed “unwise” by the powers that be. Though the topics differed, liberals and conservatives expressed respect for the principle of individual liberty on certain choices adults might make. Today, however, the number of policymakers even pretending to care about the principle is rapidly dwindling.

While liberals assert that adults should be able to use cannabis, this appreciation for freedom does not extend as far as other substances, like nicotine. Arguments to legalize cannabis are based, primarily, on the scientific evidence of cannabis’s relatively low-harm compared to legal substances like alcohol or the fact that keeping marijuana illegal fuels criminal injustice. These same lawmakers, however, at the same time urge federal agencies to clamp down on other substances popular with adults, like nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes.

Conservatives, too, have an increasingly confused relationship with the concept of individual liberty. Though they lean on the idea to defend consumers’ right to make choices about things like gun ownership and the use of vitamins and supplements, it holds little weight when it comes to discussions of other issues, like gambling and cannabis.

In light of this waning interest in individual liberty, it is unsurprising that federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Comtrol have shifted from providing the public accurate information that allows adults to make their own decisions to developing rules aimed at coercing consumers into making the decisions deemed best by the agency.

For those members of the 116th Congress who have any interest in preserving the most fundamental aspect of personal freedom—the ability to use one’s own judgment to make decisions about their life—reining in this agency overreach and preserving personal liberty in all aspects should be a top priority.

For more, read CEI’s “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 116th Congress.” Previous posts in the Agenda for Congress series: