The results are apparently in on Los Angeles' restaurant-grading system:
A recently released study found that the number of people hospitalized around the county for food-borne illnesses declined 13 percent since the county forced eateries to display their health inspection grades prominently.It's important to note that this thirteen-percent decline is in hospitalizations; most victims of food poisoning are not hospitalized, and many never seek medical treatment of any kind.
Government inspection of restaurants is a good example of why hardline libertarian dogma is wrongheaded. A food business could improve its bottom line by refusing to replace a faulty refrigeration system, by using food products that are past their "use by" date, or by cutting corners on janitorial staff and cleaning supplies. All other things being equal, a business that behaves in this way has an unfair advantage over a business that obeys the law. Thus, the law should be enforced for the benefit of the honest business, as well as for the safety of consumers.
"But private companies can do these inspections on a contract basis!" cry the libertarians. "The government shouldn't be involved. Just post the results and let consumers make up their minds where to eat!" Of course, the government is involved, regardless; it requires the inspections, and requires that the results be posted, and it also provides a legal framework for the enforcement of contracts between private businesses (shall we have privatized courts, too?). Another virtue of having government inspections is that the results are standardized: you can presume that a grade of "A" means the same thing, no matter which restaurant you visit. Otherwise, the concerned consumer is forced to assess the capabilities and methodologies of several inspection firms.
According to libertarians, government regulatory bodies are prone to abuse and dishonesty; someone at a public-health agency, for instance, could decide to make an example of a particular business; they could also demand or accept bribes. But private firms can do precisely the same things. The libertarian idea is that consumers will find a trusted private inspector on the basis of a reputation garnered over time; obviously, then, your success as a private inspector depends on convincing consumers that you have the highest standards around, and there are plenty of unethical ways of doing this, from bribery to coercion to doctoring lab results.
The funny thing is, libertarians would make this type of deceit incredibly easy, because they assume - for no reason at all - that private enterprise is basically good, and that the market will winnow out anyone who isn't. Unless, of course, they want the government to inspect inspectors, and make sure they have adequate expertise and technology?
Libertarian thought reminds me of the epicycles that were invented to make the observed motions of the planets agree with the Aristotelian dogma that heavenly bodies must move at uniform speed, in perfect circles. So long as they can imagine a scenario in which privatization would work - no matter how little connection it has to reality - the system triumphs.