Required Reading, 4th Week of September 2015

Throughout the week, I read a LOT of online articles. What follows are the two I found most interesting:

Miracle Healers, via The Economist—A disturbing look at the profitable and unregulated market for nutritional supplements:

Strangely, it was regulations which gave the industry its biggest lift. In the 1990s the FDA considered new rules for supplements’ health claims. “It set off a firestorm,” remembers David Kessler, the FDA’s commissioner at the time. “The industry understood there were billions of dollars at stake.” Lobbyists framed the issue as one of personal liberty. Bureaucrats would rob Americans of both vitamins and the freedom to care for themselves.

The result was a law that covered not just vitamins and minerals, but botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, metabolites and pills made from animal organs. The 1994 law let firms sell supplements without requiring the FDA’s approval for safety or efficacy. It also, for the first time, authorised firms to tout health benefits. They cannot claim that their pills can diagnose, prevent, treat or cure a disease, but they may make vague claims that it “supports a healthy heart” or is “essential for strong bones”, and so on. As a result, rather than restrain the firms, the law unleashed them. There are more than 20 times as many supplements on the market as there were in 1994.

Big Tech Has Become Way Too Powerfulvia The New York Times, Google’s ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra gets murky when they’re so politically powerful that they get to write the laws. This op-ed is so spot on I might as well get you started with the first three paragraphs:

CONSERVATIVES and liberals interminably debate the merits of “the free market” versus “the government.” Which one you trust more delineates the main ideological divide in America.

In reality, they aren’t two separate things. There can’t be a market without government. Legislators, agency heads and judges decide the rules of the game. And, over time, they change the rules. The important question, too rarely discussed, is who has the most influence over these decisions and in that way wins the game.

Two centuries ago slaves were among the nation’s most valuable assets, and after the Civil War, perhaps land was. Then factories, machines, railroads and oil transformed America. By the 1920s most working Americans were employees, and the most contested property issue was their freedom to organize into unions.

Now information and ideas are the most valuable forms of property. Most of the cost of producing it goes into discovering it or making the first copy. After that, the additional production cost is often zero. Such “intellectual property” is the key building block of the new economy. Without government decisions over what it is, and who can own it and on what terms, the new economy could not exist.

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