Martin Shkreli, founder and CEO of Turing Pharma, wants you to know that there’s a good reason why he spiked the price of Daraprim, a drug that treats toxoplasmosis, a serious condition for those suffering from cancer or HIV/ AIDS, from $13.50 to $750 per pill.
“There’s no doubt, I’m a capitalist.”
No doubt at all. The way Shkreli sees it, it’s his right as CEO to jack the average prices of a potentially life-saving drug 5000-percent, from the “might-need-to-put-it-on-the-credit-card” cost of $1,130 per treatment average to “there’s-no-way-to-afford-this-unless-you’re-flat-out-rich” cost of $63,000 per treatment. In 2013, the median household income in America was $51,939, so even the middle class would have to spend over a year’s worth of wages to afford just a single treatment of Daraprim.
But hey, that’s just good capitalism, right?
In addition to claiming that the bank-breaking price increase actually has “a lot of altruistic properties to it” (because, you see, the profits will allegedly be used fund new research and development into a new drug to treat toxoplasmosis) Shkreli’s rationale for the cost hike is a classic excuse used by those who willingly wade into morally dubious waters: Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t I?
“We’re certainly not the first company to raise drug prices” Shkreli told CNBC yesterday.
And that’s true. In fact, Turing Pharma isn’t even the first company to spike the price of Daraprim. According to the New York Times, who broke the story, Daraprim sales leapt from $667,000 to $6.3 million between 2010 and 2011 after CorePharma acquired its rights and raised the price.
So who can blame Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager, for getting into Big Pharma? Likewise, we can’t really get mad at for-profit prisons for simply trying to make a buck by putting people behind bars. The 37% increase of private prisoners between 2002 and 2009 is ample evidence that this is a great business model worth investing in.
In fact, if you’re willing and able to set aside moral compunctions, human suffering is a very profitable industry. Just ask the board members at Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton, whose subsidiary KBR was awarded $39.5 billion in federal contracts related to the Iraq war.
These are but a few obvious examples. As a nation, we’re long overdue for a soul-searching conversation about the limits of capitalism with regard to basic human decency. None of the aforementioned companies, people or industries have done anything illegal, yet their behavior not only makes our ethical spider-sense tingle, their profits come at a real cost. Private prisons are rife with corruption and abuse. Juicy government contracts are a license for cost overages. And the costs of medications that are all but impossible to afford get passed back into the health care system for all of us to absorb, resulting in higher insurance premiums.
It’s naive to think there’s a fast or easy fix to these types of issues, but it’s critical that we sharpen the boundaries and parameters of both business regulations and ethics. Because right now, for the amoral capitalist, America is truly the land of opportunity.