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Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Andrew Sullivan and Jason Rylander

I've never seen these two photographed together. Coincidence? Anyway, they both comment on pharmaceutical companies, drugs, and AIDS, and only one is right. Andrew first:

"I'm completely convinced by the evidence that the free market has done more to cure illness, develop drugs, and improve medicine than any socialistic enterprise. I know I'm alive today because of this. And so are countless others. I'm also aware that profits for drug companies are essential to keep the drug innovation going. So confiscating these profits, or showering complex drug regimens in regions unable to use them effectively (if at all) are in effect non-solutions to the global plague. And yet I completely see the opposite imperative. Millions are dying...."

And now Jason (whose archives are shot, Blogger-style):

"Sometimes free-market ideas--no matter how right they seem theoretically--collapse under the shear weight of their implications. Andrew Sullivan is wrestling with that very problem. HIV-positive, he owes his life to the pharmaceutical industry and believes that drug company profits are the key to continued innovation (see his Sunday Times of London article).

But then square that with the fact that he's alive and 68 million people in Africa and Asia may not be (if recent predictions are true) for lack of access to the same medicine. The technology exists to save them. Isn't there a moral imperitive to do something? Sullivan seems to think so--despite himself

"Free-market ideas..collapse". Which idea was that? Look, Jason, since you seem to be focussing on drug company profits and are probably worried about the expense of aiding Africa, here is a money-saving idea. Let's institute a national draft, and send people ages 25 to 50 to Africa to work as Health Care Providers at minimum wage. Pretty cheap, eh? Maybe I'll meet you there. Or, we the people could find the tax dollars to hire doctors and health technicians to go over. Hmmm.

And I suppose we could cut the profits of the drug companies and just expropriate their patented drugs. But is there some reason that, if we the people of the West want to aid Africa (and I believe that Andrew, Jason, and I do), we shouldn't negotiate a "fair" price with the drug companies? OK, "fair" is a tricky concept, but if there is a moral imperative to do something, why is it to be borne only by the drug companies? And, as Andrew mentions, why would we want to kill the goose that is laying golden eggs? I am still holding on for a treatment for Alzheimers, and seriously doubt that trashing the drug industry is the way to achieve that.

OK, helping Africa is going to be wildly expensive, and for reasons many have discussed elsewhere, it may not be possible to achieve a lot. But the idea that the drug companies should bear a disproportionate part of this burden just to make it cheaper for the rest of us is silly.

And yes, my "Strawman Detector" is beeping, since your comments are a bit cryptic and I am extrapolating. But there I go again.

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