Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tyranny of the Labels

There was a piece on the editorial page of the Providence Journal on Friday, November 2, 2012, “Another scary oversight failure” by JoAnne Fitzpatrick which caught my attention.  It dealt with the failure of quality control at a state run (Mass.) pharmaceutical monitoring lab, similar to the failure at Framingham, MA company, New England Compounding Center, (NCCC) resulting in up to 28 deaths throughout the United States from 328 fungal infections. 

When the problem was discovered new rules were swiftly put in place. At first read, the story appears to be a discussion of  too much regulation vs not enough regulation.

But I see a “Tyranny of the Labels”.

To illustrate, let’s call Label 1   “Big Government / More Regulations”. People with this label ordinarily respond to problems by creating new laws and/or more regulations, distrusting business to do what’s in the best interest of most or all the people. Business’ #1 priority is profit, everything else is secondary. 

Label 2 can be identified as “Small Government / Less Regulation”. Those with Label “2” believe that government regulations generally stifle innovation and entrepreneurship, that less government regulation is always better and that free markets, independent of government interference, will always provide the best and most economical solutions to problems.

Marketers have been paid many millions to convince legislators and the public that only one label is right and the other is pure evil. And it seems that millions of us have accepted it. 

In the above story, clearly there were laws in place before the contaminations were discovered. Do we really  need more laws and more regulation to address the failures, or do we need better people to administer the laws already in place? While new laws can give the appearance that legislators are doing their jobs, is it more of a “feel good” exercise that merely makes it harder for business to function and survive? 

On the other hand, by letting the marketplace decide what’s right, are we saying that we will tolerate some deaths and disease until the market can weed out the offending businesses and that we accept these tragedies simply as a cost of doing business? 

We have been conditioned by slick marketing firms to make choices according to the label that makes us more comfortable instead thinking deeper and deciding who or what is the best choice in each situation, thus avoiding the “Tyranny of the Labels”.  

A depressing instance of labelling is the “Straight Party Ticket” choice on our ballot which suggests that the individual means little, that the label is far more important. It's a shameful practice and should be abolished now. 

I recently attended a local candidate forum and was so disappointed to hear some good candidates suggest that the audience vote for the members of their party - a suggestion that it was the most important consideration. Ironically that party has been the victim of the “Party Ticket” choice at the state level for years.

This is not a simple issue. Until we choose the best individuals, regardless of labels, we will suffer from Tyranny of the Labels, and the United States will continue to lose respect even among its own people.