The legalized immorality of Big Pharma

Al Capone, the infamous mob boss and bootlegger in Chicagoland during the 1920s, always maintained that he was just a businessman, saying the only difference between him and others was that the law criminalized his business, while legalizing the criminality of so-called "legitimate" businessmen.

Al Capone, the infamous mob boss and bootlegger in Chicagoland during the 1920s, always maintained that he was just a businessman, saying the only difference between him and others was that the law criminalized his business, while legalizing the criminality of so-called “legitimate” businessmen.

Of course, big business bosses today would find their comparison to mob bosses distasteful – yet it’s not that far from a true fit for many of their corporate “enterprises.” After all, we regularly see shameless racketeering schemes from the establishment peers of Wall Street, Big Oil, Big Food, etc.

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Then there are the wiseguys of Big Pharma, whose industry-wide business model is based on legalized price gouging. On February 10, for example, Valeant Pharmaceuticals stunned heart patients, doctors, and hospitals by suddenly jacking up the price of two essential life-saving heart drugs. By a lot – Valeant tripled the price of a single vial of Nitropress, from $260 to more than $800, while sextupling the price of Isuprel from $215 a vial to nearly $1,400!

Had the drug maker improved the medicines? No, they were exactly the same formulations as before. The only thing that changed was ownership – Valeant had bought the rights to the medications from another company on February 10. Then, on that very day, it arbitrarily used its monopoly control to exact a rip-off price from those who have no choice but to pay it. A spokeswoman for Valeant was unrepentant: “Our duty is to our shareholders and to maximize the value” of their investments, she declared.

By “duty,” the lady from Valeant didn’t mean a moral duty, but a “duty” manufactured by corporate lawyers and lobbyists to extract immoral profits from vulnerable people. Al Capone would smile approvingly at that rationalization.

“Firms Buy Rival Drugs, Then Raise Their Prices,” www.wsj.com, April 27, 1015.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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