The Role of Government

Back in September Doctor Oz ran a story about high levels of arsenic in certain brands of Apple Juice, which prompted a pretty strong response from the FDA. However, he may have been more right than was initially believed. Feel free to do your own research on the subject, but it is worth noting that the FDA has taken some flack on this one. They (along with the EPA) have strict standards on the acceptable levels of inorganic arsenic in water, restrict its use in pesticides, but have comparatively little to say about it in juices. And as it turns out the levels are somewhat high in certain brands of apple juice. In fact, the FDA’s own website shows arsenic totals accumulated for a diet study program to be higher than recommended levels, but a spokesperson said that most samples tested below their level of concern.

This isn’t about juice or arsenic. This isn’t even really about how the FDA, like any organization, has to do spin control and PR to maintain its brand equity (though that would be an interesting discussion for another time).

There is a lot of political debate these days about how much of a role government should play regarding the regulation of business. Clearly we can see here that is important work for them to do. Who knows what we’d be eating in our foods if not for such regulations. But then, because they exist, we put a lot of faith in this “system” that we are being taken care of by some all knowing, powerful hand of government.

That process breaks down so often that it calls in to question the validity of it to begin with. Plus it’s tremendously expensive, to the point that many conservatives argue it’s more of a drain on our economy than it’s worth. We’re left with a really expensive system that arguably malfunctions enough that its very necessity is often called into question.

So do we want more government or less? How much power should these regulatory agencies have? And then, who watches the watchers?

While it seems clear that in many cases we can’t take the reigns off of business, we also have to understand that more government isn’t necessarily going to improve things. Government instills competence not through competitive attrition (like the free market does), but through committees, regulations, and simply having more people watch what others are doing. This is a loosing battle.

Ideally we’d want just enough government intervention to prevent really bad malfeasance, right up to the point of diminishing returns. There will never be enough (to watch everything) and there will always be too much (of a money drain and inneficient operations).

Thus this battle, like so many others in our society, has no ultimate outcome — no “right” answer. The battle must be waged because that’s the only way we get close to a proper balance.

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2 Responses to “The Role of Government”


  1. 1 mpbulletin December 3, 2011 at 7:59 am

    “Ideally we’d want just enough government intervention to prevent really bad malfeasance, right up to the point of diminishing returns. ”

    That’s the ellusive balancing point isn’t it? Given the continual flux and and many times rapid evolution in many industries, is it possible to reach that balance?


  1. 1 The Racket of Education | Just a job to do Trackback on December 14, 2016 at 8:41 am

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