We should heed lessons that show why such arbitrary and unscientific regulation is more dangerous than the alleged risks it regulates. Consider regulators’ treatment of the chemical Bisphenol A. Manufacturers have safely used it to make clear, hard plastics and resins that have lined food cans for more than 60 years. Regulatory bodies around the world have determined that the benefits of using BPA outweigh any risks.
Still, regulators targeted BPA because environmental activists hyped risks and captured headlines. In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA baby bottles and sippy cups even though an FDA representative told the New York Times that “based on all the evidence, we continue to support its [BPA’s] safe use.” The ban came at the behest of industry, which has already removed these products from the marketplace because of bad public relations created by environmentalist hype.
The baby bottle ban is building pressure for bans on other BPA uses, such as BPA-based resins that line food containers, which help prevent the development of pathogens like E-coli. As a result, BPA resin bans may eventually translate into serious food-borne illnesses.
Still, some people argue that we should at least seek substitutes to “be on the safe side.” They forget that every product on the market prevailed because it was the best to perform the job at an acceptable price at the time. Politically driven substitutes by definition will always be inferior.
Banning safe, useful products simply wastes investment, discourages innovation, and diverts resources from useful enterprises into production of second, best substitutes.
Today’s modern governments will be no better at green product design than were the Soviets at economic planning. But both policies effectively deliver one thing: a recipe for stagnation.