Friday, August 26, 2016

You're Not Actually Angry with Mylan for Raising the Price of the EpiPen

What am I talking about? Of course you're mad at Mylan! You’re so pissed you can’t see straight! How dare they charge over $600 for a two-dose EpiPen kit? They have obviously succumbed to Corporate Greed over the needs of every poor child in America with severe allergies! They don’t care if people die, as long as they get paid!

Well, all of that may or may not be true. But what you’re missing is, it’s not really the point. People get mad at Big Pharma and then say “See! Look at how the ‘free market’ serves corporations over the little guy! Let's force them to lower prices! We need more regulation and we need it now!” This is a big fallacy. The point is, in a system that was actually run by the free market, we wouldn’t have to regulate Mylan. In such a system, Mylan, or any company that chose to sell their products at too high a price would quickly become irrelevant.

In case you’re still angry at the market, wake up. Mylan is not competing in a free market and never has. It cost them billions of dollars to jump through the FDA’s regulatory hoops, and they’re overjoyed if it costs the next company behind them even more.

This isn’t just hypothetical. There are plenty of other companies willing to package epinephrine, if they could just get permission to do so. But they can’t. Mylan has a government-protected monopoly, and thus has the ability to raise prices and charge huge margins. Some would say they're acting irresponsibly, some would say they have the fiduciary duty to their shareholders to charge as much as they can to cover the real costs they incurred to get where they are.

But why did it cost them so much? Epinephrine is a well-understood and safe drug that costs pennies a dose. Mylan’s innovation was its EpiPen delivery system, not the drug it contains. OK, so how about a different injection device? Heck, a simple syringe with the dose pre-measured? Nope. Both recently rejected by the FDA.

What does regulation like this actually accomplish? Whom does it serve? For one answer, look at who funds the lobbyists to keep it in place. It might surprise you to know that those pushing for it the hardest are also those complaining about it the loudest. That’s right, Big Pharma.

“More regulation” isn’t a gun you can point at corporate greed and shoot morality bullets. It is the power of the state leveled at everyone, even those—no, especially those—who aren't yet in the market. Big businesses, already receiving revenue and using economies of scale, can usually throw enough resources at the problem to be compliant. Small businesses cannot, and thus they never get to compete. If they did, I promise you wouldn’t care if Mylan raised its prices ten- or even a hundredfold, because there would be plenty of cheaper alternatives, and Mylan would have priced themselves right out of the market.

That’s right, the market. It’s a word that means you and me—anyone who wants to buy. And when we have the liberty to do so—in other words, when there’s a free market—no one can price-gouge without someone else quickly stepping in to serve those in need. As is so often true in economics, what is seen—in this case, the good of regulation—must be balanced against what is unseen. Here, that is the good of competition forcing prices down, which, since it is prevented from coming into existence, remains merely hypothetical.

You aren't angry at Mylan for raising prices. You're angry at the FDA and those who make it impossible for Mylan’s competitors to serve you. You're angry at politicians who take campaign contributions to increase the regulatory burden, and you're angry at bureaucrats who leave government jobs after 10 years to accept a $500,000 salary from the companies they used to regulate. You're angry at the whole system that allows such corruption to flourish. Be angry at Mylan, if you must, not for raising prices, but yes, for funding policies and politicians that close the doors to innovation.

But mostly, be angry at yourself. When the price of live-saving technology goes up, it’s your tax dollars at work.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Nice Isn't the End of Evil

I generally refrain from writing a post after a terrorist attack. Political posts generally try to cash in on the suffering of others to make policy gains. And non-political posts, while they don't do any harm, let's face it, other than letting your followers know what a good person you are, they don't really help anyone.

The pattern is now the story
But last night's attack in Nice was different. First of all, the tone of the media coverage has shifted. For example, in most of the stories I read, there was a timeline of other recent terrorist attacks, with a count of the wounded and slain. In other words, the pattern of jihadist violence has finally become a key part of the story. Not even the mainstream media is now willing to deny that all these myriad events are connected.

The weapon is one we have to trust
Secondly, the attack wasn't made with a gun, or bomb, or even a knife, that could then be blamed for the evil committed. It was done with a truck. Trucks bring food to our supermarkets, gas to our gas stations, and just about everything else to where we need it. In spite of a little more pollution than we would like, we can all agree that trucks are Good Things. So good, in fact, that we can't do without them. In other words, no one can deny we have to trust trucks, to a degree far beyond our dependence on guns (which are obviously necessary for law enforcement, whether or not you agree with individual gun rights).

There will be a next time and we know that now
So, as a society, we've come to the point where we are finally admitting, in a tacit way, that these attacks are not isolated. We're facing the even more painful fact that nothing we've yet tried will really work to defend us from something like what happened in Nice last night. And we're all realizing what eight long years of domestic peace under George W. Bush caused us to forget: these attacks won't stop on their own. They keep coming and there's no end in sight.

My problems with post-attack calls for gun legislation
Twelve to twenty-four hours after a shooting attack is when you would normally hear calls for new gun legislation. I have three main problems with such calls: First, gun laws will almost always take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and do nothing to prevent criminals from getting them. This makes the problem worse, not better. Second, there is never much chance of the initiatives being discussed to see the light of day, much less be enacted into law. They are floated out of a purely political desire to excite the anti-gun base.

The gun laws aren't even designed to work
Finally, and here is the real problem, gun laws put forward after major shooting events wouldn't have prevented those shootings if they had previously been law. Those laws are just proposed to advance an anti-gun agenda in general, and after a shooting event is the best time to try them out. They wouldn't fix the problem. It is political opportunism at its most parasitic.

Now we face a difficult question
We have a clearer road forward after this attack in one respect at least: no one is going to seriously call for a truck ban (though I expect some may do so in jest). So now Left and Right should be in agreement that the weapon wasn't the problem. We can't blame the weapon, and we have a rising belief that the incidents aren't isolated. This is real progress. We may not yet have the answers we need, but we are finally going to be asking the right question. And that is: How in the heck do we keep this from ever happening again?

Border security and immigration
It's a sign of the effectiveness of Trump's message that his name has become synonymous with tighter border security. However, the concept (obviously) predates him. As I have said many times, I am no Trump fan, and while I support tighter border enforcement, I don't even support all of his ideas on that subject. On one point, however, I think Trump fans and Trump detractors, and even many on the Left, would agree: the border is our first line of defense in stopping would-be terrorists from reaching their soft targets (shopping malls, parks, power stations, etc). Tightening security there would be a step in the right direction, even if we don't build the wall Trump wants, or leave the borders porous and have a de facto amnesty for illegals as is our current policy. But even more important is the scrutiny given those who enter the country legally.

Certain aspects of Islam are not merely religious beliefs
One of Trump's terrible ideas is to deny U.S. entry to all Muslims. But did you know that a sizeable percentage (some polls put it as high as half) of American Muslims would support the installation of Sharia Law as a replacement to the Constitution? This preference for Sharia is not just a religious belief, but is obviously political as well. I don't think it's unreasonable or bigoted at all to deny visas to those who hold such beliefs, let alone to those who would support the use of violence to advance that goal (those we call Islamists).

Bush Doctrine?
Long term, we might have to be prepared to fight again. Heaven forbid, but we may have to save blood at home by spilling it abroad. The war in Iraq might have turned George W. Bush's name into a dirty word, but let's face it, if you have an enemy whose soldiers you can't identify once they leave home, but you know where they are being indoctrinated, recruited, and trained, isn't it a good idea to go fight them there? No, we don't at present have any intelligence connecting Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel (the truck driver in Nice) to ISIS. Not so with earlier attacks in Brussels, Paris, and elsewhere.

All the facts aren't in
It's important to say that at the time of this writing, it is not yet generally known what motivated Bouhlel to such an unspeakable act. His neighbors claim he was depressed and going through a divorce. His wife's cousin says he took drugs and never went to mosque. So, obviously, it is an assumption at this point to call what he did an act of jihadi violence. It would be very surprising to me, however, if Bouhlel's willingness to kill dozens of innocent people, including women and children, was unconnected to a radical Islamist world view. The place and time of his chosen attack seem to support this assumption. Certainly ISIS itself has taken his motivations as a given and are celebrating his evil actions.

Appeasement is worse than doing nothing
It's time to stop apologizing to Islamists (those who support the violent installation of Sharia law) for the foreign policy of previous administrations, time to stop negotiating with state sponsors of terror like Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority, time to stop giving those who would install Sharia in the West a pass as merely having a difference of opinion.

Western Civilization is a threat to Islamism
This is an existential struggle. It begins when we, Western Civilization, all of us, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, and others, deny the lie of multiculturalism and finally admit, that, yes, we've got a pretty good thing going here. Western Civilization, and its three main pillars, capitalism, representative democracy, and religious freedom, are better than their alternatives around the world, especially the many countries now under Sharia law. We must learn and advocate the ideas that made our society (and our country) great. Otherwise, we can't battle the ideas that radicalize too many vulnerable people, especially young Muslims, and turn them into terrorists. We can no longer afford to believe all philosophies are created equal. Certainly Islamists are not making that mistake.