Few matters are as important to individuals as the foods they eat, how they pursue personal health, and how they choose to spend their time and money. Fortunately, the number of choices for consumers has never been greater. Additionally, the quality and accessibility of many consumer goods have only increased. Nevertheless, self- appointed advocates continue to pressure governments to control, restrict, or even ban products and services consumers want. Rarely do such restrictions result in better options or health for consumers. On the contrary, they typically raise the cost of living for those least able to afford it, while causing other perverse and potentially hazardous consequences.
Consumers have exacting demands that, free from interference, private businesses have proved capable and willing to meet. Government regulation of food, drugs, and other consumer products is generally intended to protect consumers, but one-size-fits- all regulation is often poorly suited for ensuring safety for a wide range of consumers with highly individualized needs. Some rules are intended to reduce choices or to discourage consumers from choosing particular goods or services. Whatever the intent, government regulation necessarily imposes costs on producers and consumers, reduces choice, and alters consumer behavior—not always for the better.
Legislators and regulators respond to political pressures. Often, rules are not based on basic principles of science, but on activist agendas and the belief that controlling consumers’ choices is “for their own good.” In such cases, governments myopically focus on regulating or prohibiting controversial or novel products without considering how they fit into the range of options and alternatives consumers have. Government may attempt to restrict the use of products and technologies that activists consider risky, but that are nevertheless safer than the alternatives. When that happens, genuine safety can be compromised as consumers pursue riskier alternatives. The result of such politically driven regulation is not a safer, more secure, and more prosperous world, but one that is poorer, less fair, and often more dangerous. Consumers are best helped not by heavy-handed restrictions, but by producers competing with one another to supply consumer demands and needs.
It is essential that government regulation of consumer choices be limited to policing the marketplace to ensure that consumers are not misled by false claims or exposed to adulterated products. Product safety and labeling regulations should be designed with maximum flexibility to allow producers to offer the products and use the production methods that best meet their customers’ demands. Where safety restrictions are truly needed to protect consumers or the environment, quality standards should be based on the best available scientific data, while allowing producers and consumers the widest possible range of choice.
In this chapter:
- Protect Consumers’ Access to Tobacco Substitutes and Vaping Products
- Strengthen Cooperative Federalism by Removing Cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act