The Party of Poison

If it would be so easy to balance the Federal budget by cutting fraud, waste, and abuse, why do the House Republicans want to virtually eliminate Federal funding for poison control centers?

If it would be so easy to balance the Federal budget by cutting fraud, waste, and abuse, why do the House Republicans want to virtually eliminate Federal funding for poison control centers?

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

30 thoughts on “The Party of Poison”

  1. The question that always occurs to me, when I read things like this, is: “Why do liberals insist on treating opposing federal funding of anything, as indistinguishable from opposing that something, period?” It’s like you simply can’t accept that state and local governments actually exist, and have their own areas of responsibility, that not everything is a federal matter.

  2. Because I know as well as you do, Brett, that Republicans at the state level have absolutely no interest in stepping up to plug the gaps. Find me a Republican governor who says, “I agree that the Federal government shouldn’t do this, so I’m prepared to raise taxes to do it here instead.”

  3. It takes about four brain cells to see the GOP is not interested in…um…what was their mantra…oh, yes: “balancing the budget”. Please. Would that the Dems were actually a competent opposition party instead of orange-wigged goofballs in a clown car.

  4. Mark, that’s really quite irrelevant. Something being a state responsibility means that the states get to decide what to do about it, up to and including nothing. To use an example you’re on the other side of, are states entitled to take control of border security, just because the federal government, which has a claim to this responsibility, deliberately doesn’t do it’s job?

    Some consistency here, Mark.

  5. In addition, Brett, the GOP at all levels of government is perfectly happy to p*ss vast sums of money on whatever they (or their backers) want.

  6. Brett,
    Your copy of the Constitution is a pretty mechanical document. Where was it written that all powers must be either exclusive Federal or State responsibility? It’s not in my copy of the Tenth Amendment.

  7. Economies of scale, Brett?
    Alaska does not have enough population to make a poison control center very feasible, but combining their efforts with the other 49 states and various territories allows..

    Oh never mind, it’s hopeless.

  8. “Your copy of the Constitution is a pretty mechanical document. Where was it written that all powers must be either exclusive Federal or State responsibility? It’s not in my copy of the Tenth Amendment.”

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    It’s not my fault you’re reading impaired. Because that’s EXACTLY what the tenth amendment says.

  9. Your copy of the Constitution is a pretty mechanical document.

    Also, someone erased the General Welfare clause.

  10. Please consider also the cost/benefit issue. Would an end to Federal support for poison control centers inspire a mass rush to consume mercury, lead, cadmium, botulinum-tainted meat, and oleander-smoked salmon? How many lives do federal poison control centers save, anyway?

  11. I’m with Malcolm. How many rich people need poison control offices? Their live-in nurses are perfectly capable.

  12. Malcolm,

    OK.

    Cost/benefit it is.

    Annually, of all the calls to a poison center about a potential poisoning, more than 70 percent of calls are managed on site and outside of a health care facility, meaning that the caller got the help they needed over the phone and didn’t have to go to a hospital or a health care provider. This makes poison centers a key resource to safely reduce costly emergency room visits and lighten the load on an overtaxed health care system.

    Most of the remaining 30 percent of potential poisoning calls each year are calls from a health care facility. Doctors and nurses frequently use poison centers to be in touch with specialists on poisoning cases.

    Poison centers also provide educational outreach to prevent poison emergencies and inform the public about the dangers of poisons. You can call your poison center to get information to teach others on the dangers of poison safety.

  13. Note: My entire comment above is quoted from the linked site. Sorry about the formatting error.

  14. Piling on with Bernard. Doctors also use Poison Control Centers in cases where they have to administer an unusual drug cocktail in a quasi-emergency to answer questions like: Can we administer these drugs together at all? If we can, can we mix them in the same bag? If not, can we administer through the same catheter or do we need to start another line?

    I’m sure Brett and Malcolm would prefer that the manufacturers handle those issues. Unfortunately, they don’t staff the phones 24/7/365, and they may not be up on every interaction or chemical reaction their product might. When it’s your wife in labor on a Sunday afternoon, you’re glad those folks are around.

  15. Look, I’m quite glad to have poison control centers around. They’re great. They’re widely appreciated. They’re the sort of thing states most assuredly WILL fund if the federal government doesn’t.

    I just happen to lack this spinal reflex which connects, “That’s a good idea.” with “The federal government should pay for it!”

  16. Now I’m confused, Brett. Does the Constitution allow the federal govt. to set up Poison Control Centers or not?
    It’s not listed, so by your interpretation, the Power to set them up is denied.

    But then you come back saying that not every good idea must be sponsored by the feds. Implying they could, but just might not be a great idea.

  17. Bernard, uou’ve established that some people will call for information. You have not established this information would not be available without federal support, or that the value, in lives saved, exceeds the dollar cost.

  18. Malcolm,

    True. But the savings do not only come from lives saved, important as that is. They also come from reduced ER visits and the like.

    Now, I admit that I haven’t done a thorough C/B analysis. Do you honestly believe the House GOPers have done one? If they haven’t, then why do they want to defund a program that even Brett admits is highly beneficial? So we have a program that is clearly beneficial, that contributes to the general welfare, so to speak. IOW, no one is claiming that it’s just a waste of money, like Alaskan bridges. The only issue is whether those subtstantial benefits outweigh the costs. I myself would be astonished if they didn’t. What do you think?

  19. “Now I’m confused, Brett. Does the Constitution allow the federal govt. to set up Poison Control Centers or not?”

    Sure it does; In the District of Columbia, and such places as the federal government purchases with the consent of the state legislatures where they’re located. Not elsewhere.

  20. They’re the sort of thing states most assuredly WILL fund if the federal government doesn’t.

    Right. Just like the free market would have gotten rid of Jim Crow. In fact, it was getting right on that, had we just waited.

  21. Sure it does; In the District of Columbia, and such places as the federal government purchases with the consent of the state legislatures where they’re located. Not elsewhere.
    and this is why libertarians don’t get elected to office.
    That it would be unconstitutional for the US to buy a building in New York, staff it with a bunch of operators, and have them tell people that three bottles of cough syrup won’t kill your kid.
    … unless the NY Legislature approves.

    wow.

  22. Yes, that’s my position: The federal government is limited to just the enumerated powers, those things the people who wrote the Constitution had thought needed to be done at the federal level, while the states are supposed to be doing everything else.

    Why else, for instance, would the Constitution have to specify that the federal government is authorized to set up a postal system? You do understand that your interpretation of the Constitution renders a great deal of it redundant, don’t you?

  23. You do understand that your interpretation of the Constitution renders a great deal of it redundant, don’t you?

    Actually, lots of legal documents contain redundancies. It is not at all uncommon to see a contract, for example, specify some general requirements and then add a phrase like, “including but not limited to,” followed by a list of some specific items, to make it clear that there could be no dispute over those. Redundancy is not a sin. It often adds clarity, and not incidentally is a common feature of legal writing.

    Besides, your interpretation makes much of the taxing and spending clause redundant. Why didn’t they just say “Congress has the power to tax and spend to exercise the powers enumerated below.” So there’s redundancy either way. What was intended? There seems to be some dispute, though mostly the broad interpretation has won. After all, there were lots of people involved in the process. Surely there was no unanimity of intent.

    The broad interpretation actually makes sense to me. I’d like to think that the Framers were smart enough to realize that they couldn’t foresee every issue that might arise, or every way in which the federal government might be useful, so just possibly they, or some of them, thought it a good idea to let authorize Congress to act in a generally helpful way.

  24. They’re the sort of thing states most assuredly WILL fund if the federal government doesn’t.

    Brett – states, cities, and private philanthropy already provide the majority of the funding – about 80%, as the NY Times piece linked in the OP mentions. It also goes on to add that “[m]any strapped state and local governments have cut back their financing, and experts say that the virtual elimination of federal money would force many centers to close and sharply damage the effectiveness of the national network.“. My state – PA – is poised to make massive cuts in education and Medicaid, according to the paper; I don’t think dredging up additional funding for our two poison control centers is going to be a big priority at the moment. ‘States WILL fund it’ is a perfectly good argument for many things in many times and places – this, here and now, unfortunately doesn’t seem likely to be one of them. As the parent of a 14 month old little girl who is able to pop things in her mouth faster than the eye can see, that makes me pretty unhappy. (I’d also add that federal funding presumably helps compensate a bit for low-revenue, low-service model states, or even just localized downturns, and as such seems like a Good Idea.)

  25. Brett’s view of the constitution is more akin to the articles of confederation.
    Despite nearly 100 years of expanded federal role in stuff, he’s still railing against the role of things like the FDA. Federal Poison Control centers are not constitutional in his view. Why would the FDA, FAA, NHSB, EPA, and such be constitutional to him? That side lost that battle long ago, but he’s still fighting that battle like a Japanese soldier that never found out they lost WWII.

  26. Oh, I’m quite aware that I lost the political fight. The Leviathan stands triumphant, and there’s no going back. I’m just not of the opinion that losing the political fight means the words changed their meaning.

    As I like to say, in the real world, that little boy in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes would have been dragged into an alley and beaten with a rubber hose, (Fortunately, we’re not an empire, we have freedom of speech, so people are allowed to notice publicly that the Emperor is starkers.) and the parade would have gone on. But the emperor would still have been naked, and a great many people would still have noticed. And that would still have consequences, even if the Emperor was able to go on pretending to be well dressed.

    A small government constitution interpreted as though it were a big government constitution is not the same as a big government constitution. It’s not the same, because doublethink doesn’t arise and sustain itself spontaneously. You need to maintain it, deliberately, and the things you need to do to maintain it have unintended consequences. So long as we have to staff the government with people willing to swear an oath to a small government constitution, and then live by a different one, we’re going to have a higher level of governmental corruption than we would otherwise. Once you dedicate your life to one lie, what’s another?

  27. Brett, I can’t take it seriously, you talking about words losing their meaning.
    You have claimed the US is a tyranny.

    ps words do change meaning, and interpretation. ‘Cruelty’ has a shifting meaning, like it or not.

  28. (Phil): “Right. Just like the free market would have gotten rid of Jim Crow. In fact, it was getting right on that, had we just waited.
    “Jim Crow” names a law that mandated employment discrimination. Read Thomas Sowell (__Civil Rihts: Rhetoric or Reality__, __Knowledge and Decisions__) and Walter Williams (__The State Against Blacks__) on the role that competitive markets played in undermining racial discrimination.

  29. Bernard,
    This is my basic text:…
    Eduardo Zambrano
    “Formal Models of Authority: Introduction and Political Economy Applications”
    __Rationality and Society__, May 1999; 11: 115 – 138.
    Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work.

    Value is subjective, even the value of human life. No human life is infinitely precious. If we disagree about values (tastes) federalism and competitive markets allow for the satisfaction of varied tastes. Whether the resources required for the operation of a poison control center would be better spent on a park, a school, or by individual taxpayers can only be determined by experiment (observe migration between US States with varied policy regimes). This is one reason for a Federal system.

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