Martin Shkreli is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, and he’s become somewhat of a punching bag ever since he bought the rights to a drug called Daraprim (pyrimethamine) in August of this year from drug company Impax. If you’re unfamiliar with the man or the controversy surrounding this drug, he made waves by raising the price of this drug, which is commonly used to treat AIDS and cancer patients, from $13.50 to $750 per pill, overnight. That represents a 5,500% increase. When the news broke, Americans did what they do so well; they bitched and moaned on social media and over cocktails or wine with friends instead of insisting on change. #Murica
He brought some of this upon himself, reportedly paying $2 million for a rare Wu-Tang Clan album, as well as calling himself the world’s most eligible bachelor and livestreaming himself going after his critics, enduring him to absolutely nobody except Gordon Gecko. He’s a pompous douchebag for sure, but that just made him a dick, not a criminal.
Yesterday he was arrested for securities fraud, and many people shouted in delight and jumped for joy. Claims of karma catching up to him and other such sentiments popped up on Twitter, and everyone thought he got exactly what he deserved for taking advantage of dying old ladies with cancer and people with AIDS.
I’m not going to get into the main purposes of those pills, but don’t think for one second that what he did was illegal with regard to Daraprim’s price hike. Yes, he’s getting what he deserves for security fraud, but those charges come from one of his earlier business ventures as the co-founder of the hedge fund MSMB Capital Management.
In fact, what he did in raising the price of Daraprim is as close to 100% ethical as you can get. We live in a (mostly) capitalist society in the United States, which means that his ethical responsibility as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals is to his company’s shareholders. He has no responsibility to the medical patients being prescribed the drug. None. Is he morally repulsive? That’s for you to answer yourself, but we’re leaning towards “yes” on that.
And this is where the American public comes in because as they’re tweeting about how happy his arrest made them from their iPhone 6Ss while sipping their peppermint mocha latte from Starbucks, they’re just feeding the machine that made this type of behavior possible. Some jackass with a shit-eating grin isn’t at fault, people. It’s us. We embrace capitalism and then get mad when capitalism makes something we don’t like possible.
Don’t take this as an attack on capitalism. I love capitalism. It’s been great to me, and it’s been pretty great to most Americans as well. Martin Shkreli’s actions should make us think about our relationship with capitalism, however, specifically in the healthcare sector.
The only other topic in recent memory that has people talking so much about our health care system is the Affordable Care Act, more lovingly referred to as Obamacare. Something of a dirty word, President Obama’s signature healthcare law has had a lot of ups and downs in its brief three year history, and the majority of American still don’t approve of law, according to the latest credible survey on the subject from the Kaiser Family Foundation, mostly because they view the ACA as being too socialist and not free market enough.
An important note from that same study is that the overwhelming majority of Americans, 76 percent to be exact, believe that there should be regulation supporting the lowering of costs for expensive drug to treat diseases like HIV, cancer, hepatitis and others, and 60 percent say this should be the government’s top priority with regard to healthcare regulation.
Those last statistics highlight the very reason why people hate Shkreli so much. We genuinely want sick people to get healthy and get the treatment they need. So why do we fight legislation that could make that possible? Further, why do we still accept the idea that people’s health should be a matter of profitability and return of capital to shareholders? And why do you still vote for people who want to further solidify the view that everything, including healthcare, should be open to the free market? We should be demanding a single-payer health care system. Yes, we should socialize medicine.
I’m sorry, America, but you don’t get to villainize Martin Shkreli for his move with Daraprim until you’ve reconciled your loyalty to a capitalist health care system and your genuine desire for humane approaches to treating the ill. Is he a dick? Absolutely, he’s a giant dick. Is he morally repulsive? Probably. Is he ethically wrong? Nope. The only way this amoral behavior won’t happen again, however, is if the United States goes ahead and gets rid of free market policies in the health sector.
Just to reiterate, this isn’t an attack against capitalism. In fact, it’s possible to be just as economically free market as we currently are while also moving to a single-payer health care system.
According to the Heritage Foundation, a very conservative American think tank, which has ranked every country’s economy in the world based on its economic freedom (i.e. how free-market-friendly it is), every country ranked ahead of the United States has a single-payer healthcare system, or socialized medicine. We’re not talking “most” or “many” here; every country ranked as more economically free than the United States provides its citizens free health care—including expensive medications used to treat diseases like HIV and cancer. Yes, even Daraprim is free in those countries.
So, America, don’t blame Martin Shkreli. Blame yourselves. If you don’t want some pharmaceutical CEO jacking up the prices on lifesaving medicine, you should start to vote for people who will demand a socialized health care system. You know, like the citizens of the most economically free countries on earth. You don’t have anyone to blame but yourselves.