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Another Government Failure

One of the central issues for small government people, such as classical liberals, libertarians, and many conservatives, is government failure.  While the standard arguments for big government purport to identify market failures that justify government intervention, small government people emphasize government failure.  For small government people, the government regularly engages in activities that constitute government failure.  The government program does bad things, causing harmful results or producing beneficial results, but at excessive costs.

Ordinary Democratic voters and many Republican voters see government agencies as basically doing a good job.  When they see the FDA, many people simply picture an agency that protects us from unsafe and ineffective drugs.  Many other people, while more skeptical, still see the FDA as basically doing good, even if at times it makes mistakes or pursues inappropriate policies.  It is the rare person who sees the FDA as fundamentally misconceived, as requiring a radical restructuring where it has far less coercive power and is much more of a certifier than a regulator.  

Part of the reason why more people don’t see the extent of the government failure is that they simply are not knowledgable about the mistakes that the government has made and is making.  One of most visible mistakes, becoming clearer every year, is the food pyramid introduced by the government in 1992, which recommended a low fat, high carb diet: “6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta occupied the large base of the pyramid; followed by 3 to 5 servings of vegetables; then fruits (2 to 4); then milk, yogurt and cheese (2 to 3); followed by meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts (2 to 3); and finally fats, oils and sweets in the small apex (to be used sparingly).”

This information is increasingly seen as being erroneous.  The government and its experts may very well have caused many millions of people in the US to develop diabetes, heart disease, and other serious maladies.  Even the New York Times has now run a story on a “major new study” which shows that “people who avoid carbohydrates and eat more fat, even saturated fat, lose more body fat and have fewer cardiovascular risks than people who follow the low-fat diet that health authorities have favored for decades.”

The question is whether the government will come clean on its mistake.  Will it admit its error, say its sorry, and come up with new recommendations?  I am not betting on it.  Admitting its mistake would emphasize that it made a mistake.  Instead, my guess is that one day it will update its food pyramid, simply claiming that new science has displaced the old science, without taking any responsibility for the harm it caused.

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