I grew up, as did many people, believing that government agencies protected us in many ways. It seemed obvious that an agency named the Environmental Protection Agency protected the environment from would-be polluters and the Department of Education advanced the educations of Americans. As an aside, the government has long been acutely aware that names matter, which is why bills are named the Affordable Care Act and the Clean Water Act. Who could be against affordable care or clean water?
As I got older and went to college and then graduate school, I took economics and public policy classes and learned the problems with government agencies and the benefits of freedom, decentralization, spontaneous order, and self-regulating free markets. I changed my views and saw government agencies, such the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a new, more critical light. My perspective changed again, slowly and largely imperceptibly, when I went to work in the pharmaceutical industry. I was so busy dealing with my new responsibilities that I virtually stopped thinking about public policy issues. Then, one day, I noticed that I again believed in the FDA. If we didn't have the FDA, I thought, what menagerie of dangerous and inefficacious drugs would be on the market? Without the FDA, Americans could be dying. My thinking had come full circle, largely in the background and on automatic pilot.
This didn't mean that I liked or even respected the FDA, as I heard all the damning stories of the FDA's internal workings. I think at this point, however, my views were pretty consistent with many employees in the pharmaceutical business: The FDA was a messed up government bureaucracy that still performed a critically important function.
These days I think and write more about drug regulation and the FDA and my views have continued to evolve. I'm excited because I'm thinking about these issues more clearly than before, but I keep coming back to the same question: Do we really need the FDA?
I'd like to hear the stories of others. Have you always had the same view of the FDA and drug regulation? Has it changed over time? If so, why? What triggered the change? If it hasn't changed, when did you first become aware of your view?