Martin Shkreli has been arrested. The man who took over a generic drug selling for $13.50 a pill and who then raised the price to $750 a pill has been charged with fraud and other financial crimes, essentially defrauding those who had money to invest in his fraudulent and money-losing hedge funds.
Yet under our laws, he can’t possibly be charged with price-gouging those who needed Daraprim order to survive, although he even claimed that he made a “mistake” in setting the price at $750 a pill, because that was “too low” and that he was behaving altruistically because Daraprim was unprofitable at the old price. Even those with insurance coverage would have ended up paying $150 a pill. In his next move, Shkreli led an investor group to take control of KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, where Mr. Shkreli agreed to license the worldwide rights of a drug used to treat Chagas’ disease, a potentially deadly parasitic infection – but at a much higher price. And, of course, most of those infected won’t be able to pay that price, which will either result in more deaths… or in gouging the public health agencies that treat such infected individuals.
Shkreli’s acts and the way the law treats them are just another example of how U.S. justice has gone overboard in recent years in “protecting the market system” – the ultra-capitalistic market system. Now, I freely acknowledge that any workable economic system has to have a capitalistic/market basis, but when the ultra-rich pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than do middle-class wage earners, when basic health care becomes increasingly less affordable for tens of millions of Americans [and when the Republican response is essentially to declare that requiring healthcare insurance is the cause, rather than a symptom of an unnecessarily overpriced private health care bureaucracy], when maximizing profits at any cost, regardless of the social and environmental costs to everyone else, has become a “necessity” for executive survival in the corporate world, doesn’t it seem that a few changes in the legal, regulatory, and taxation structure might be a trace overdue?
And if those changes aren’t made…
When the laws protect only those who have money, and it doesn’t look like matters will change, it may not be all that long before those who don’t have massive wealth decide to take matters into their own hands… and bring the entire system down. Such events have occurred more than a few times before. And I’m sure that most of the Russian and French aristocracy felt that such an uprising was nothing to worry about.