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Thursday, August 5, 2021

How Prescription Medicines Reveal the Absurdity of the Nanny State

The divergence of Canadian and American prescription medicines reveals an arbitrariness and capriciousness in public health bureaucracy that many have probably not noticed.

Image Credit: Pixabay

What is a medical prescription? It is a note from your doctor to your pharmacist giving you permission to avail yourself of an otherwise ordinary legal drug. We are not talking about heroin or cocaine or anything like that.

Wait? What? You need someone’s permission to purchase a drug that has not been criminalized?

Yes, I know this will come as a shock to people who yearn to be free and are not. But unless you obtain authorization from a physician, you will be precluded from accessing certain drugs. To mix metaphors, this is a fine kettle of fish.

The justification for this totalitarian system is that if you take the wrong medication—we are not talking about relatively harmless ones such as aspirin, or sunblock—you can become seriously ill or worse. But that would only justify a requirement that you get the advice of a competent professional before you yourself make a decision on the matter, certainly not his permission.

We have to probe a bit deeper, then, to understand the premise upon which this requirement is predicated. It is based on the assumption that you are too stupid to obey the advice given to you by your physician. You must be compelled, for your own good, to obey.

At least if medical prescriptions were coherent, based on ‘science,’ that would be one thing. But they are not.

The logical difficulty here is that if you are so abominably imprudent so as to not listen to reason in this regard, why, ever, do we allow you to vote? And, if we have enough trust in your good sense to enable you access to the ballot box, why does this vanish when you approach a pharmacy? Another flaw in this institution: it assumes you are smart enough as a voter to elect politicians who will appoint bureaucrats to impose rules upon you that posit you as foolish.

Imagine if this system were applied to other areas of our lives. You would need approval from your doctor before you can purchase sugary 16 ounce drinks. Think it couldn’t happen? Oh, wait, it already has (sort of) thanks to New York City Mayor Bloomberg.

Let’s try again with our attempt at offering a ludicrous and hypothetical analogy. Before you can fix or install new wiring, you’ll need not your electrician’s advice, but his out and out permission. Before you can buy or repair a car, you’ll not need mere advice from your automobile dealer, but permission from him. Before you can purchase cake, cookies, ice cream, chocolate, your grocer will have to allow this.

If these incursions on our liberty were ever imposed upon us, there would be a revolution. Why, then, are we so supine when the very same rights violations occur in the medical field? It cannot be that people can get very sick and even die if they take the wrong medicine. We can also be electrocuted without a good electrician’s advice, get hurt or die in a motor vehicle accident if we choose the wrong car; perish from all sorts of diseases if we are morbidly obese.

The prescription practices are reminiscent of attempts to determine ‘fair’ wages, instead of leaving this to the free enterprise system.

At least if medical prescriptions were coherent, based on “science,” that would be one thing. But they are not. There are actually medicines for which you need a prescription in Canada, but not in the United States. Here are some for which the reverse is true: Polysporin Eye Drops, for pink eye; Patanol, an antihistamine, for allergy. Further, Zaditor is freely available in the US, but a prescription for it is required in Canada. In contrast, Pataday is a prescription drug in the US but is available over the counter in Canada.

Both Canada and the United States are civilized countries; neither is behind when it comes to medical sophistication or scientific knowledge. That they could diverge on this basis does not exactly confer much confidence in this preposterous system.

This practice is reminiscent of attempts to determine “fair” wages, instead of leaving this to the free enterprise system. Those behind this effort concocted a list of four criteria to determine equity in this regard: skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions. The goal was to compare, for example, the wages of nurses and truck drivers. They attempted to impose objectivity to these criteria which are exceedingly difficult to measure. The results were an embarrassment due to the failure of the advocates of this system to come up with anything like similar measures. For example, one would rank teachers higher than plumbers; another would come up with the opposite findings.

The divergence of Canadian and American prescriptions also indicates arbitrariness and capriciousness.

  • Walter Edward Block is an American economist and anarcho-capitalist theorist who holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.