This week, two extreme examples of the dark side of Capitalism have surfaced: Turing Pharmaceuticals, owned by former Hedge Fund Manager Martin Shkrelli, buys the 62-year-old drug Daraprim (a treatment for toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite. It comes from eating under-cooked meat or drinking contaminated water, and affects those with compromised immune systems, like AIDS and cancer patients), and ratchets up the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill; and, Volkswagon AG, the 78-year-old world’s largest automaker is caught purposefully “tricking out” its engines with “defeat devices” to fraud emissions tests so that it would be virtually undetectable that 2.0-liter Volkswagens and Audis were as much as 40 times above the legal emissions limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx).
I am not even going to address the Volkswagen corruption here, because the stock markets and consumers themselves will probably seal Volkswagen’s fate and mete out punishment.
The problem with the Shkrelli situation is that there is currently no watchdog with large teeth in place to put a bite in Turing’s, Retrophin’s, Gilead Science’s and other pharma companies’ acts of consumer gouging.
Now, I am not anti-Capitalism. I believe that those who invest smartly, who work hard and wisely, particularly when it’s for the betterment of society, should have the opportunity to benefit through financial gain. I think most people aspire to be well-off (whatever that means to them), so they don’t have to worry about car payments, dental work, college tuition, health issues, mortgage payments, and the myriad other financial challenges most people face. The majority of people aspire to be more than a step or two ahead of the next billing cycle…in order to travel, to retire early, to dine out, to buy houses or apartments, to donate more generously to their favorite charities, to enjoy whatever version of entertainment appeals to them, without feeling controlled by budget rather than desire.
The problem is that greed and loss of, or total lack of, conscience is often a by-product of Capitalism, as in the cases above.
I don’t buy Martin Shkrelli’s excuse that Daraprim was “underpriced” and that he planned to use the profits to create a better drug to serve those in need. I’m sure those individuals and/or insurance companies who are shelling out “their share” of anywhere between $567 to $1134 per six-week course of treatment (Doraprim is usually prescribed to be taken 1 – 2 times per day, in conjunction with another medication, such as a sulfonamide) do not feel it was underpriced. And what of those longer-term patients such as sufferers from HIV, whose annual costs will skyrocket as high as $634,000 annually*?
I just have to wonder…if the drug, which once sold for $1 per pill, has been around for 62 years, and is still being produced, could possibly be so unprofitable that its price has to be jacked up by 5000%? Shkrelli claims that he needs to make it “profitable.” Even if Turing Pharmaceuticals adjusts the price of Daraprim downward, as Shkrelli has been pressured to, and claims he will do, one wonders what his assessment of justly profitable will be.
In both the Turing Pharmaceuticals and the Volkswagen examples, we see the dark side of Capitalism. This is not about profit, this is profiteering at its most insidious.
*Joint statement made by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association.
This is an editorial written by Carol White Llewellyn, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Board, Management or Staff of RCTV.