Martin Shkreli is a poster child for what's wrong with capitalism
But the case of VW really serves as an illustration of just how much - and more importantly, why - our economy is so distorted, twisted, screwed-up, and unserviceable for the vast majority of us: the baseline concept that profit, the search for profit, the drive for profit, the thirst for profit, not only rules everything, it overrules everything and is actually justification for overruling everything from law to regulation to ethics to decency to our collective future.
Consider some big news of late, the case of Martin Shkreli, a smirking little prig of a man who made himself notorious by buying the rights to a medication called Pyrimethamine, sold under the trade name of Daraprim.
Daraprim is used to treat Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease. The parasite is extremely common, with even an estimated 23% of the US population over the age of 12 harboring the parasite. In most people, it causes at worst some flu-like symptoms and many people never show any symptoms at all.
But infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or cancer patients, can suffer very serious complications. As a result of that, plus the fact that up to 95% of the population in some areas of the world harboring it, Daraprim on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the ones it regard as most important medications needed for a basic health care system.
Well, Shkreli bought the rights and then immediately raised the price from the already-absurd $13.50 a pill, absurd because Daraprim has been on the market since 1953 and costs about $1 per pill to make, raised the cost from an absurd $13.50 a pill to an unconscionable $750 a pill, a 5500% increase, in a single day. On a medication needed by some among the most vulnerable.
He was roundly, soundly, and justifiably denounced for this across social media, but the point right now is how he defended himself.
He told CBS News that "There’s no doubt - I’m a capitalist, I’m trying to create a big drug company, a successful drug company, a profitable drug company."
He bizarrely claimed the move was "altruistic" and would actually benefit patients, which sounded as wacko in the original as it does here, but he had already given the game away: He's a capitalist. It's all about the money. It's all about the profit. It's all about the greed. It's all about the pure unadulterated selfishness and the "me first." And the "me second." And the "me third." And - and so on.
Which in its own perverted way makes sense, as Shkreli initially made his money as a hedge fund manager, that supercilious tribe of economic mutants that make fortunes by shifting around other people's money while creating absolutely nothing of value and accelerating the increasing concentration of wealth and power.
Which, again, is the point: It is perverted. Because Shkreli really expected that saying "I'm a capitalist" freed him from all requirements of ethics or decency and what's more that his interviewer would accept it the same way. That "profit" makes it all good.
That is the way they think. That is what the corporate elite, the 1%, the economic powers of our nation, the Masters of the Universe, however you refer to them, this is how they really think. They hold that profit is not only its own reward, it is its own justification, and that everything else, including ethics and the law, must fall before it.
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