Thomas Sowell

 The government will allow you to risk your life for the sake of recreation by sky-diving, mountain climbing or any number of other dangerous activities. But it will not allow you to risk your life for the sake of avoiding arthritis pain by taking Vioxx.

 There is no principle behind such differences in government policy. No one has to show that some particular medication is more dangerous than some particular recreation in order to get the medication banned while the recreational activity is allowed to go on.

 Businesses that conduct dangerous recreational activities are not being denounced for "corporate greed" by making money at the risk of other people's lives. But such charges are flung around regularly about pharmaceutical companies -- and are taken seriously in the media.

 The sad fact is that many issues that are argued as if they were matters of principle are in fact only matters of attitude. We are used to hearing denunciations of "unsafe" drugs, cars, water, and various other things that crusaders and the media happen to have singled out.

 This has created attitudes, rather than anything that could be dignified as a principle. Far more dangerous things not only escape criticism but are even promoted by some of the same people who create hysteria over more fashionable fears.

 The banning of the insecticide DDT is a classic example. Unsubstantiated claims of dangers to human beings from using DDT have led to bans on this insecticide in many countries around the world, leading to a resurgence of mosquitoes carrying malaria, whose documented deaths have been in the millions.

 It is attitude, not principle. An attitude of reverence has been created for Rachel Carson by the environmental movement because she claimed that DDT would wipe out song birds by its effects on their eggs. Yet she has probably been responsible for more deaths of human beings than anybody without an army.

 One death in a boxing ring will set off loud demands to ban that sport but hundreds of deaths from boating accidents will elicit no such response. Nor are such gross double standards confined to safety issues.

 Americans will be denounced for greed and materialism by people from countries where individuals do not donate nearly as high a percentage of their incomes as Americans do, nor volunteer a fraction as much time to philanthropic causes as Americans do. Moreover, there will be a chorus of Americans on the left echoing the foreign charges.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate