We hear so much about “big government” burdening “job creators” with excessive “red tape” and “bureaucracy,” but that rhetoric isn’t new. Even in the decades after the New Deal, when workers had more power than they do today, and the government was seen as society’s protector, private profit too often conflicted with the public interest.
Take the sleeping drug thalidomide, which caused thousands of infant deaths and birth deformities across Europe in the early 1960s. Before being linked to those defects, the drug reached the desk of Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Kelsey saw something odd in the drug trials performed by the pharmaceutical company that manufactured thalidomide, and requested more tests. The company, with profits at stake, bullied her to approve the drug, even threatening a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, evidence from Europe began to pour in that thalidomide was toxic if taken during pregnancy.