People often ask what a libertarian world would look like. It’s impossible to say, and speculating can be problematic. Scott Morgan at DRCNet (aka StopTheDrugWar.org) famously observed:
It’s a terrible and frequent conundrum for reformers that if we accurately describe the behavior of our opposition, we end up sounding crazy.
He was speaking in the context of drug law reform, but the principle applies in many other cases of government command and control. For example, we all know about the tens of thousands of people the FDA has left to die by delaying the release of life-saving medicines. But what if I told you that, if not for the FDA, colorblindness would be curable? What if I told you further that, if not for the FDA, we might even have a procedure that could expand the spectrum of visible light, resulting in a world that is colorful beyond our present imagination? Would that sound crazy?
I’ll let Jay Neitz, professor of Opthamology at the University of Washington, and Jad Abumrad of WNYC’s Radiolab explain. Here is a passage from their May 21st episode entitled Colors. The relevant part begins at 0:50, and the quoted passage below appears at 3:15:
JAD ABUMRAD: Now if this worked so well with the monkeys, couldn’t you take a colorblind human and give them back the thing they’re missing?
JAY NEITZ: Absolutely. We could cure colorblindness in a human with exactly this technique.
JAY: The only thing that we’d have to do is convince the FDA that the risks are low enough and the benefit is high enough that it’s something we can do in people.
JAD: Have you ever tried it?
JAY: No, we’ve never tried it. Although, I get a lot of e-mails that say, “I don’t care what the risks are.” I’ve even had offers: “How about if I come to your laboratory, and you don’t tell anybody, late at night, and you give me the shot in the eye, and we won’t tell anyone.”
JAD: Which brings us back to our original question: If you can take a colorblind human and give them normal color vision, could you take a normal color seer and boost them … [i.e. add additional color receptive cones to their retinas, thereby expanding the spectrum of visible color for them].
JAY [chuckles]: Well, yes. Yeah. …
JAD [speaking to the listener in the third-person]: He said, “Sure. Why not?” But then there’s the whole FDA thing … .
Here is a video of Neitz’s monkeys seeing new colors:[youtube.com=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ya8c6VdPwng#!]
Jay had apparently elaborated a little on “the FDA thing”, but this elaboration was edited out of the show, probably to keep the plot moving. I’d love to hear the full interview.
As far as I can tell, the FDA is not actively prosecuting Jay Neitz. There is no news. There is no headline. There is no outrageous court case. Jay Neitz is not “facing” any number of years in prison for all the good he’s doing. Jay has simply decided not to move forward with his scientific discovery at this time, apparently because he lacks the wherewithal to appease the FDA, should it object. What other amazing ideas and discoveries lay out there undeveloped out of fear of government retaliation? I can only imagine.
So what would a libertarian world look like? It’s impossible to say, but I suspect at least that it would be more colorful.