Free men, free markets, and toxic toys

Libertarian principles in action! Why no celebration?

My libertarian friends have been curiously silent amid the fuss about toxic pet food and children’s toys from China. I’d expect them to be celebrating the triumph of their principles.

Shouldn’t the Chinese government be praised for freeing pet-food and children’s-toy entrepreneurs from the deadening hand of regulation? How do we know that the buyers of those products weren’t making perfectly sensible decisions to accept somewhat higher risk of poisoning their pets or kids in return for somewhat lower prices?

If they were fooled, what business is that of the state’s? Next time maybe they’ll be more cautious. By refusing to buy again from the U.S. retailers who sold them bad stuff, they’ll put pressure on those retailers to be more careful about what they sell, which will in turn put pressure on wholesalers and importers, which will put pressure on Chinese firms to improve the quality of their products. Or not, as the market dictates. Caveat emptor!

Now of course someone might object that the toxic imports resulted from regulatory corruption rather than a policy decision. But all that demonstrates is that government is, by its nature, corrupt, and that government should be shrunk to the size where it can be poisoned … err, drowned …like a kitten.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: