26 April 2007

West Palm Beach police rescue elderly from affordable dentures

On Wednesday, April 25, Roger Bean of West Palm Beach, Florida was arrested and charged for providing a service to customers who were apparently satisfied. He is a criminal without victims, at least according to those that the government claims that he victimized. Unlike other victimless criminals, though, Mr. Bean's dealings were not in prostitution, gambling, or illegal intoxicants.

For some time he had been fitting customers for dentures in his garage, manufacturing the dentures himself, and then providing them to customers for around $200 per set. This service, which usually costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $2000, was provided to elderly customers who were also Bean's neighbors and friends.

From the news reports, Mr. Bean hardly seems like a scam artist. According to the 72-year-old head of the neighborhood watch program, "He's helping the old people who don't have a few dollars. I think the world of him." Unlike back-room plastic surgeons who we occasionally hear about having horribly disfigured some hapless customer during a cut-rate corporeal upgrade, there is no evidence that Bean was performing invasive procedures, or, in fact, medical procedures of any kind. He was simply fitting clients for dentures and then manufacturing dentures for them.

Bean's "crimes" were against the American Dental Association, whose Commission on Dental Accreditation has been tasked with granting (and denying) accreditation to dental schools since 1979. This ADA commission enjoys a monopoly position as the only dental school accreditation agency recognized by the federal Department of Education.

Roger Bean and others like him are being persecuted for daring to compete with those dentists favored by the powers that be. After all, who were Roger Bean's crimes against? Did he defraud his customers? Or is this just economic protectionism for licensed dentists against a competitor who is providing a substitute for their services at a tenth of the price?

When it comes to transportation, not everyone needs a Cadillac. They are nice, to be sure, but many, many people can do without the luxury features of that high-end brand and instead make it from point A to point B in a Honda Civic or another, more affordable vehicle. To be sure, there are many benefits to the presence of top-shelf brands on the market. Many features now only available to the wealthiest customers will filter down to the buyers of economy-class cars in a matter of years. The purchasers of luxury brands make all of us better off in the sense that they subsidize the research and development of new products and features, effectively helping the relevant industries determine what to include in future product lines.

As with cars, not every consumer of dental services needs a dentist with a DDS or a DMD. Some people might choose to have their needs met through a less costly alternative. Unfortunately for bargain-seekers, the ADA cartel limits the number of dentists who can compete with its membership, and so it lobbied the feds to declare it to be the gatekeeper for entry into the dental profession. When service providers like Bean are arrested, it isn’t protecting the elderly, or the toothless, or the stupid. No, such heavy-handed enforcement is carried out with little regard for these “victims” and the plain fact that each one found himself, thanks to Mr. Bean, either able to afford dentures or, in other cases, able to direct their saved funds towards other ends, perhaps including life-saving or life-lengthening medical care.

The ADA has historically provided many useful services, including its evaluation of dental hygiene and health products. Just about everyone who has purchased a tube of toothpaste or a new toothbrush has seen the organization's familiar logo. The ADA endorsement has been a helpful metric for consumers in determining which products may be best suited for their dental hygienic needs. However, the real value of their "stamp of approval," just as with any other similar organization, plummets as soon as the evaluators are effectively granted a monopoly. While another, competing organization could theoretically be formed to test and rate dental health/hygiene products, the ADA would still benefit from its government-ordained appellation of "official" provider of this information. And with regards to the accreditation of dental schools, the ADA is the only (legal) game in town.

As soon as such an organization depends on government edict rather than consumer confidence for its authority, there is a much lower incentive to provide the most useful information to the public, and ultimately the public suffers. While this, the real crime against consumers goes on, the heroic Roger Bean sits in a jail cell, waiting for the criminal justice system to mete out his punishment for saving his friends and neighbors thousands of dollars.

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