High-Tech Snake Oil?

If you pay attention to the news, you’ll have noticed the breaking scandal over anti-cholesterol medicines. One, Vytorin, turns out to be at least half fake. The other, Lipitor, has VERY deceptively employed “Dr.” Robert Jarvik, the Harvard Med School student who never completed his training, and is not a physician and cannot prescribe medicines, but invented the artificial heart.

Turns out “Dr.” Jarvik — who looks every inch like a marathon-running vegan — probably didn’t start taking the Lipitor he says in his ads that he’s been personally using thankfully “as a doctor, and a dad” until after he started shilling for the Pfizer corporation, Lipitor’s peddler.

This, of course, raises the obvious follow-up question about whether Jarvik has actually ingested the pills or merely flushed them down his heated, gold-plated crapper.

But whatever the details of these two huge, well-researched medi-frauds may prove be, the most important points are certain to go unmentioned. Among these are:

1) The human meaning of the fact that there was $4.8 billion spent on U.S. drug advertising last year. That sum is greater than the GDPs of each of the Earth’s 45 poorest countries. And $4.8 billion is only the ADVERTISING number, meaning it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As is known by those who take the trouble to comprehend what corporate marketing is and how it works, advertising is merely the endpoint of the marketing process. Before it comes targeting, marketing research, and “product management.” Those processes are much more expensive than even advertising, which, per minute, is by far the most lavishly-funded form of video and pictorial drama, Hollywood blockbusters included.

2) The amount of fraud and waste in the capitalist medical-industrial complex. This cholesterol fracas suggests the share of naked snake-oiling going on is far bigger than even most single-payer advocates have suggested. How affordable could we make single-payer if we also ended these criminal schemes?

3) The profound irrationality of the corporate capitalist health destruction/care process. The amounts big business investors spend on drug marketing are beyond dwarfed by the megabucks they allocate to selling fast food, junk food, television-watching, and automobile-owning/driving. It’s the perfect racket: With one hand, you create the epidemic dangers; with the other, you profitably throw (often fake) pills at the symptoms. It is what Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction” — but the entity involved in the process is none other than the supposedly (and actually) sacred human life/body. Can you say “blasphemy”?