John Power reports on yet another appalling aspect of the world’s most expensive medical scheme:
Balking at the cost of in-house research, major drug companies have slashed R&D budgets in recent years to focus on the late-stage development and manufacturing of treatments pioneered externally – often by publicly funded entities such as government institutes and universities.
All 210 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 2010 and 2016 were developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health, which distributes about 80 per cent of its US$40 billion annual spend on medical research to more than 2,500 universities and research institutes worldwide.
“Big Pharma generally do not have research divisions anymore, they gave those away when they found their research was three times as expensive per drug developed than ones sourced from academia,” said Ian Frazer, a professor at the University of Queensland who co-invented the human papillomavirus vaccine. “Industry only gets involved in manufacturing and marketing a likely successful product.”
Lots of folks have been wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic carries any legitimately hopeful meanings. Here at TCT, we think there’s at least one, and that it’s a doozy. Permit us to explain.
In his classic (though admittedly pretty hard-to-read) book, The Great Transformation, the Hungarian political economist Karl Polanyi argued that, despite official doctrine, no sane person really believes that human beings and natural objects are actually commodities, actually things that can be bought and sold, up to infinifty or down to zero, without regard to underlying physical and ethical realities.
Under certain conditions, Polanyi argued, certain groups of people can get away with pretending that land and labor really are merely salable things. But not always and not forever. When things get over- or under-heated, as they inevitably do, capitalist theory falls away, as people sense the truth of what Polanyi called, on page 76 of The Great Tranformation, “the commodity fiction”:
Now, one of Polanyi’s main subordinate hypotheses was that, despite the efforts of TPTB, society — meaning the democratic majority — would often be forced to defend itself against the commodity fiction by creating “welfare” policies based on the reality that land, labor, and money are not, in fact, infinitely salable quanta, but rather precious, ethically primary, qualitative realities of their own.
With this in mind, TCT would like to suggest that social distancing is, among many other things, a very major proof of the Polanyian “self-protection of society.”
As the most hardcore and/or naive capitalists among us are trying to point out, we could quite easily go back to letting the commodity fiction organize our everyday affairs. Doing so would undoubtedly be very good for capitalism.
But we are instead doing something else, aren’t we?
Why is that?
It is because we are choosing human life and human ethics over market valuations.
Just as Karl Polanyi predicted we would.
And, the news might be even better than this. We seem to be doing this astounding thing with little serious resistance. This may speak to the gradual improvement of our culture, in Polanyian and later culture-war terms.
We are voting with our feet, marching in the direction of the basic pragmatic point that, ultimately, in the real world, economic “markets,” as some have said, can be great servants, but are always, at the end of the day, terrible masters.
A big question now is whether we will somehow become aware of what we are, in fact, doing, and then use our new level of self-clarity to keeping stepping toward the other kinds of self-defenses we pretty obviously need to enact against our other impending realities, which promise to make COVID-19 look like, ahem, a tea party.
Were it charged with doing so, the United States Postal Service could easily create and maintain a non-commercial, not-for-profit, no-advertising, completely secure alternative to Facebook, which exists to harvest marketing data for its corporate clients. The fact that such an obvious thing remains unmentioned and unmentionable speaks volumes.
That remedy, by the way, is to empower the United States Postal Service to live up to its Constitutional mandate. This would involve modernizing the USPO, to make it a fully-funded and aggressively-managed provider of not just ISP and cellular access, but also secure, marketing-free, non-commercial search engine, web browsing, and social networking software/services.
NYT: Most Americans think we should raise taxes on the rich, but the Republican candidates don’t, except Trump, who has said he would consider it.
HH: I asked him about a wealth tax, and he said no. But I find that concentration of wealth in Silicon Valley deeply disturbing. Those billionaires are very smart, but they moved to Silicon Valley at the right time. Someone was going to invent Facebook. I’m glad Mark Zuckerberg did it, but it wasn’t an act of genius; it’s an act of timing. Should he have tens of billions of dollars?
NYT: That’s a pretty radical position for a conservative.
HH: I don’t think it’s very good for the society to have billionaires. It creates envy. And envy destroys republics.
NYT: So you’d say to the Silicon Valley elite, ‘‘You didn’t build that.’’
HH: No. They did build it. I would say, You should keep an enormous amount of money for your entrepreneurial ability and your success. But there is a limit in America to how much any one person is going to have. You don’t need 10 billion dollars. Nobody does. The country does.
It is overclass arrogance and decrepitude, not mass envy, that destroys republics, and why those who “build” what was already going to get built, usually after much public-sector expense and groundwork, get to keep even millions is also very highly debatable. Likewise, there has only been one time “in America” when serious limits on personal greed existed — that was WWII.
But still, point taken. It’s a shame the left doesn’t speak this plainly and pointedly.