This story, The Family That Built the Empire of Pain, which recently appeared in the New Yorker, was recommended by a friend the other day. The New Yorker does print good stuff, even if it’s often interspersed with coastal provincialism and cultural preconceptions. This is one case of the good, even if there is a little of the bad.
So, on the one hand, the piece’s focus on art museums and philanthropy seems to me more of a shiny object than a part of the meat and bones of what has happened with Purdue, and with pharma in general.
What we have here is, in fact, not a family or a company—or a family-owned company—acting badly, breaking the rules. Instead, this is our form of capitalism functioning precisely as it is supposed to. The facts are there in the story, even if it doesn’t call the things by their names.
Privatized, for-profit product development, backed by clinical research purchased from researchers through various schemes: check.
Lax regulatory framework subject to regulatory capture: check.
Obscene advertising and marketing efforts: check.
Gaming the patent system: check.
Billions in profits made with little care for the consequences for consumers and other affected: check.
Communities destroyed, lives upended, and the people left trying to clean up the mess: check.
Dissimulation when confronted by the evidence, even when brought before Congress and the courts: check.
In short: socialized risk and privatized profit.
The story that neoliberalism—and liberalism before it—told us was that individuals should pursue private interests, indeed, it is their very human nature to do so. From that pursuit was to come come the greatest good for everyone.
It is true that this is not the case here, obviously. But this might easily be dismissed as one case of a bad actor exploiting flaws in the system. It’s just that there seem to be a lot of one-time events happening in our society. Each time we reveal yet another one of these, we’re told that yet again it is a one-time fault in the system.
Newsflash: they are not faults in the system. This is the system.
Add this to the ever-larger pile of evidence that healthcare is not a market, but a basic human right.
And until we recognize this, we get the public health crisis that is Purdue Pharma.
Or this story, about the victims of the Las Vegas shooting who were visiting from other states who are facing stratospheric medical bills because they had the temerity to get shot outside of their home states and, therefore, be taken to a hospitals that were out of network. And so they are turning to online fundraising, because America has the best medical system in the word.