On Banning Drugs, Vitamins, etc.

Robin Hanson (hanson@hss.caltech.edu)
Thu, 31 Oct 96 11:45:41 PST

In a few months I will be presenting a series of talks at major
ecomomics and political science departments around the country. It is
my "job talk", where I will try to convince folks to hire me.

I will present a paper of mine which has a model which explains why
rational regulators would ban products for rational consumers, rather
than to label them. I explain such behavior as a commitment failure;
both sides would rather commit to no such bans, but once bans are
possible, regulators often choose them in the game-theoretic
equilibrium, since not banning would be taken as an endorsement of
product quality.

To make this talk and paper shine, I need three things:

1) A choice of a prototypical product which is banned. This might be
a drug (eg marijuana), vitamin, financial asset (eg gambles), building
code, etc.

2) Good sources explaining in the protaganists own words the best
politically-effective reasons offered for banning this product. These
reasons should prominently include to keep adults from hurting
themselves, as opposed to reasons of externalities, non-competitive
markets, addictions, children, or signaling games. Sloppy incoherent
reasoning is not very useful (could be interpreted many ways), nor are
eloquent reasons that can't be plausibly argued to have had much
effect on the actual political process.

3) For this product, an authoritive source on the U.S. history of when
it was banned and why, preferably also comparing this across the
world. For this purposes, "authoritive" includes recent, not
obviously partisan, and of high academic pedigree.

With these three things in hand, I think I can make a real change in
the thinking of economists and political scientists, toward seeing
such product bans as contrary to consumer interest. And such an
intellectual change could have important political implications one or
two decades from now. Any help folks could offer would be
appreciated, and acknowledged.

Robin D. Hanson hanson@hss.caltech.edu http://hss.caltech.edu/~hanson/