I want to describe a few of instances of government intervention into our free market, then I want to describe a couple of cases of civic duty avoidance. Then I’ll tie these two together.
Scott Gottlieb, an ex-deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, describes in a recent The Wall Street Journal a case of FDA intervention in our market. The salient parts of the intervention, for our purposes, are these: a superior means of repairing an aging (and so failing) valve that allows blood to flow from the heart into the aorta, a means in use in Europe for four years, is finally becoming available in the US. The FDA insisted on increasingly extensive, slow, and costly animal and clinical studies—all for our own good. One result of this sort of delay is that more and more American medical device makers are moving their businesses overseas, at the expense reduced availability of medical innovations to Americans.
John Carreyrou, in another The Wall Street Journal article, describes a different case of medical industry market intervention. What’s relevant here is this: in response to the method by which Medicare measures the efficiency with which services are delivered to patients receiving home-health care, the nation’s three largest home-health care companies altered their delivery methods to maximize their reimbursements under those measurements. Of course, this may have affected the efficiency of the care actually delivered.
In the third instance, Bob Greifeld, CEO of Nasdaq OMX, describes in a recent The Wall Street Journal article, problems with Sarbanes-Oxley’s market intervention. Here, Greifeld notes that small business’ portion of job creation in the US has fallen from 64% of the new jobs in the period from 1993 through 2008 to 51% in 2010. Further, initial public offerings—a primary means by which companies raise capital besides borrowing—by small companies (IPOs of $50 million or less) fell from 300 per year, on average, in the ’90s (before Sarbox’ enactment in 2002) to 30 in 2010. These reductions, while also depressed by the current economic Panic, are due largely to the cost of Sarbox compliance, which hits small companies far harder than it does the large corporations, and this in turn inhibits their growth and hiring. Sarbox’ efforts to protect investors from their own decisions is hurting small business growth and employment.
Here, now, are the civic duty items; both involving jury duty. In Hillsborough County, FL, a judge there was confronted with no less than 387 individuals who had ignored their jury summons on a single day (it took him 3 hours to gather 22 good citizens for a single jury pool). His response was to issue summons to those “absentees” to explain their absence; unsatisfactory excuses could earn their offerors a fine or 6 months in jail. In Midland County, TX, the judges faced a similar situation, with 294 no-shows on a single day. Similar summons for show-cause hearings were issued, with unsastisfactory excuses similarly earning fines or jail for their offerors. These two examples are all too typical, both for the two counties and for the nation. Such skips not only are individually wrong; in their aggregate they degrade the defendant’s right to a fair and prompt trial. And they degrade the government’s ability to obtain justice for the victims of the miscreancy in question.
Thus, on the one hand, we have government interfering with individuals’ free choice and assuming outright the responsibility for those choices, and on the other hand we have free individuals shirking their duty to their neighbors and to their community (and ultimately to their country). Here’s how they’re related, as if you haven’t figured that out by now. When we allow government to interfere with our choices, when we allow government to protect us from ourselves, when we allow government to assume responsibility for the outcomes of our choices, we become habituated to government handling our responsibilities for us. And we lose our sense of responsibility. And we shirk our responsibilities, assuming always that someone else will take care of the matter for us.
The outcome of this is not just that we grow lazy and amoral. We lose our freedom: the only way government can take care of us, can satisfy our responsibilities for us, is by managing our outcomes for us, by managing our choices for us. By controlling our behavior.