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The most dangerous monopoly: When caution kills

by Learn Liberty

Everyone wants the items they buy to be safe to use or consume. Prof. Howard Baetjer of Towson University explains that when products undergo third-party certification processes to determine their safety, market forces are able to optimize the amount of testing conducted and consumers can use the information provided by certification firms to make their own decisions. It is difficult to say how much testing is enough: another test can always be run on a product, but at some point the benefit of the extra testing outweighs the costs. In a free-market system, competition among certification firms allows the market to work as it should and prevents both under- and over-testing of products. Conversely, when the government holds the monopoly on safety standards, products are likely to be over-tested, delaying their entry into the market and making them more expensive. Sometimes the costs of such delays cannot be quantified; lives can be lost while life-saving medicines are held up in safety-testing processes.

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