Pope Francis warns of ‘unbridled capitalism’? Here’s an example or two

pope-francis-musing-AP

Pope Francis, who visits the United States for the first time this week, has been eloquent in condemning the excesses of “unbridled capitalism.” As he puts it, “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned,” producing widespread economic injustice as well as environmental damage to the Earth that has been placed in our care for future generations.

In a recent speech in Bolivia, he was characteristically blunt:

“An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”

If Francis’ indictment is accurate, it shouldn’t be hard to find examples to fit the pattern that he describes. And in fact it isn’t. Consider, for example, what has happened in the last few days to the cost of Deraprim, a standard, 62-year-old drug used to treat cancer patients, AIDS patients and newborn babies whose mothers are infected with toxoplasmosis, a parasite. Until last week, the drug could be purchased for the not-inexpensive price of $13.50 a tablet. As of today, the drug’s new owner is charging $750 for that same tablet.

Why? Because he can. In fact, former hedge-fund manager Martin Shkreli, 32, the founder and chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, says that at $750 a pill, the drug is still underpriced.

As the New York Times reports, the Deraprim case is the latest in a trend in which long-established, basic drugs are being purchased by new companies, which then raise the price to extraordinary heights:

“Cycloserine, a drug used to treat dangerous multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, was just increased in price to $10,800 for 30 pills from $500 after its acquisition by Rodelis Therapeutics. Scott Spencer, general manager of Rodelis, said the company needed to invest to make sure the supply of the drug remained reliable. He said the company provided the drug free to certain needy patients.

In August, two members of Congress investigating generic drug price increases wrote to Valeant Pharmaceuticals after that company acquired two heart drugs, Isuprel and Nitropress, from Marathon Pharmaceuticals and promptly raised their prices by 525 percent and 212 percent respectively. Marathon had acquired the drugs from another company in 2013 and had quintupled their prices, according to the lawmakers, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland.

Doxycycline, an antibiotic, went from $20 a bottle in October 2013 to $1,849 by April 2014, according to the two lawmakers.”

Doxycycline was first approved for use almost 50 years ago. Its development costs had been repaid decades ago, and at $20 a bottle, it was clearly turning a profit for its previous owner. But judged by the ethics of the marketplace, its new owners are doing nothing wrong by raising its price by a multiple of 90. It’s not their problem if some people will be denied access to these life-saving drugs at these new, higher prices. It’s also not their problem if health-insurance companies are forced to jack up their rates to cover the costs of these long-established drugs. The new owners have control of a product that sick people need to remain alive, and they are willing, even eager, to leverage their customers’ desperation in order to maximize their profit.

It’s not evil. It’s not unethical. It’s just business, or so we are told. (And don’t forget, Medicare is forbidden by law from trying to negotiate lower drug prices with Big Pharma.)

Then there’s the Volkswagen story. According to the federal government, the company secretly installed software into its highly profitable line of diesel engines that could detect when the engine was being tested for emissions. Under that testing, emission controls would be activated and the engine would perform in a mode allowing it to pass the test. But in normal use, that same software would switch off emissions controls, allowing the car to accelerate faster even as it emitted pollutants at up to 40 times the allowable limit. In the United States alone, over a six-year period the company sold almost 500,000 cars installed with that “defeat device”, in the process polluting the air that we all breath so its shareholders and executives could make a little more money.

“I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” a supposedly penitent Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn said Sunday once the news broke. “We will do everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused.”

The problem is, this wasn’t an oversight or mistake of omission. You can’t design such highly sophisticated software and install it in hundreds of thousands of cars across multiple product lines — Passats, BMWs, Audis, Jettas, Beetles — without a high-level corporate decision to do so. Most auto analysts believe it highly likely that Winterkorn himself — an automotive engineer — had to be aware of such a wide-ranging conspiracy to break the law. And while there’s talk of potential criminal charges being filed against those at VW who perpetrated this fraud, I’ll believe it when I see it. Somehow, what are crimes in other settings become something else entirely when committed in a corporate setting.

These are the type of excesses that Francis warns against, and as he notes, it’s a matter of priorities. Capitalism may be the most productive economic system ever designed by the human mind, but it was not handed down to us as a sacred institution that we are barred from adapting to our own goals. It is a human invention just as a diesel engine is a human invention, and like a diesel, it can and should be adjusted to produce the desired outcome.

As the pope puts it:

“The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.”

Reader Comments 0

1342 comments
juvenal
juvenal

minocin still cheap..................oblahmacare did not address the pharmacy ripoffs at all, big pharma owns plenty of dem-congers....... 

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

"Yes

Instead of them dumping it on us. "


I don't suppose Headly would like to discuss where WalMart employees buy their groceries and what would happen to them with increased costs. 


BTW, Headly, WM already announce they were increasing wages and have lowered their wall st. projections as a result.  How about Kroger, Publix, and Food Lion?  Do you think they're paying their people any more or is WM just a popular punching bag for libbies?

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@fiftythreepercenter they all should pay their people more and good capitalists should want that as well. more money in the consumers' pockets means more money spent on trinkets. it's not rocket science.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@fiftythreepercenter WM already announce they were increasing wages


They are trying to hedge against a min wage hike they know is coming.


9 bucks an hour isn't going to cut it though

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

“The study estimated the cost to Wisconsin’s taxpayers of Walmart’s low wages and benefits, which often force workers to rely on various public assistance programs,” reads the report, available in full here.


“It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.”

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

"Wal Mart CAN afford to treat its employees better"


How about Microsoft, Starbucks, Warren Buffett's companies, Soros' companies, Facebook?  Do you have the same hatred of them you have for Walmart and McD's or are you just parroting other liberal BS without actually thinking about the reality of what you posted?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@fiftythreepercenter Those companies treat their employees infinitely better than Wal Mart


You might want to do a little homework before you post something that stupid. 

honested
honested

@fiftythreepercenter 

If all corporations were paying appropriate taxes, they might pay closer attention to ALL the variables that feed into profit (such as appropriate considerations for labor) rather than concentrate on squeezing the Chinese and fiddling with factoring costs.

Watsuie007
Watsuie007

@fiftythreepercenter  Liberals are not the problem; unfettered, unending, unquenchable greed is the problem.  Making a profit is all well and good, but not at the expense of someone's life or are you only "pro-life" when it is convenient? The main reason so many are struggling (and loosing the fight) economically, despite all-time high record breaking profits, is that the managers and stockholders put their greed before everything else an took the raises that should have gone to their employees.  Now many are barely making it, not having a pay increase that even covered the cost of living, for over 10 years.  Increasing the cost of a medication by 5000% for no good reason, is playing fast and loose with the lives of others, just so the CEO can take another vacation or buy another home somewhere. His greed speaks more of his character than anything else.  I hope the medical insurance folks take the med off their formularies, because that is the best way to reign in cost and dry up demand  The Pope is right about unfettered capitalist; is does need to be reigned in for the good of all.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

So, have any of our righteous republicans shared with us any specifics on why they disagree with the Pope's stance on capitalism.

------------------------------------

First, the American free market system has produced great wealth for the country and her people.  Second, the American freedom to own and to create has begotten the most creative, efficient and most peaceful time in history for those nations whose people participate willingly and freely to work, to do and to be in peace. 

Third, physical and material life has improved in nearly every imaginable way in the last 300 years so much that the bare facts are taken for granted. 

Fourth, ideas that the poor are exploited are generally absurd (though some valid notions are worth discussing).  Most raw materials, end products and necessary consumer goods like food have, over time and within the American free market, become much MORE affordable, not less as karl marx, and wrong leftist intellectuals such as Paul Ehrlich have predicted. 

I don't disagree with the pope in matters of religion here.  I disagree with his assessment of my country and of our world and what could make material and physical circumstances better. 

Watsuie007
Watsuie007

@Yes_Jesus_Can  Pie-in-sky rambling, displaying general ignorance about the plight of the majority of Americans (who haven't had a raise in over ten years).

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

"Nonsense. There are plenty of companies that treat their employees like sh--t and thrive. WalMart. 53's fav, McD's, Verizon come quickly to mind."


It's funny to listen to you armchair QB's assign your hatred of WM to their employees; every last one of whom chooses to get up every day and show up for work there of their own free will.  Perhaps you don't have any idea what you're talking about????


And most McD's employees work for a small business owner who owns a franchise, not for the McD's corporation.  


We really need some smarter trolls on this blog.  This crew is lame even for Bookman's standards.

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@Hedley_Lammar Who the f--- cares what they can afford to pay?   Who the f--- are you to even decide that?  That they aren't paying more means the market doesn't dictate it.   This is not difficult.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@fiftythreepercenter Wal Mart CAN afford to treat its employees better


It chooses not to. When the Walton's own basically 40 percent of America and their employees are on food stamps something is wrong.


Why should the taxpayer subsidize their low wages ?


You are correct about the MCDonalds thing. 



GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@Hedley_Lammar The people working for Walmart aren't worth more than they're getting paid.   I know this because they aren't getting paid more.   The taxpayer isn't subsidizing Walmart.   If anything, Walmart is subsidizing the taxpayer.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@GeorgeStein @Hedley_Lammar The people working for Walmart aren't worth more than they're getting paid.


Yes they are. The are making billions for the Waltons. 


And yes we subsidize their low wages so their employees can eat. 


http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-walmart-workers-cost-taxpayers-6-2-billion-in-public-assistance/


Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing, according to a report published to coincide with Tax Day, April 15.

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@Hedley_Lammar They are paid for their contributions.   And if you think Walmart isn't subsidizing the taxpayer, let's remove the minimum wage and find out!

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@GeorgeStein @Hedley_Lammar Lets not


Actually lets raise it so we don't have to pay for food stamps for their employees. 


All while the Walton family sits on their butt and counts the Billions the inherited and definetly didnt work for. 

honested
honested

@fiftythreepercenter 

I wish we would concentrate on the companies with which I do business.

I haven't spent a penny with any of those three entities in over 20 years.

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@Hedley_Lammar No it's not.   They are in compliance with all regulations about employee payment.   It's not their job to be a charity for us.

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@Hedley_Lammar So in your world private business exists to subsidize the government.   This is the exact opposite of your original post.   God, what a clown.  Which way is east again?

foo2u
foo2u

Armchair QB's... heh... that's rich coming from a distinguished member of the chairborne 101st...

The irony trickles down off that one, it do...

Derp...

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

American Business Overwhelmingly Small Business.

In 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, there were 5.68 million employer firms in the United States. Firms with fewer than 500 workers accounted for 99.7 percent of those businesses, and businesses with less than 20 workers made up 89.8 percent


The overwhelming majority of Americans don't work for McDonalds etc. Its the small mom and pops that drive the engine.


Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Hedley_Lammar

erm... that's misleading. You're comparing the number of businesses, not the number of people who actually work for these businesses.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Visual_Cortex @Hedley_Lammar The SBA defines a small business as an enterprise having fewer than 500 employees

2)   There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US and over 22 million are self employed with no additional payroll or employees (these are called nonemployers)

3)  Over 50% of the working population (120 million individuals) works in a small business

4)   Small businesses have generated over 65% of the net new jobs since 1995

5)   Approximately 543,000 new businesses get started each month (but more employer businesses shut down than start up each month)

6)   7 out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more

7)  52% of all small businesses are home-based

8)   There were 22.5 million nonemployer firms in 2011 (up almost 2% from the year before)

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

um, bulls?


he [meaning, me] brought up work experience of the GOP candiates and totally ignored the current president...


Might want to ask your pal 53 just who it was who'd originally brought up that tiresome "business experience" issue, here.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

@LeninTime @Yes_Jesus_Can 

Go to Cuba.  You will find you can't buy enough toilet paper for your family, nor enough rice so that your kids aren't hungry.

There's several orders of magnitude of separation between someone who can't afford doxycycline and someone who can't wipe their rear in a sanitary way. 

If you want to run your mouth in Cuba against the government, you will be beaten or jailed.  .....and you're demagoguing high drug prices.  SHAME ON YOU, LT! 

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

"what's so rotten about workers owning the company?"


Nothing, except where the capital to start the business comes from.  Why don't you start one and let us know how it goes.

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@fiftythreepercenter it's called pooling of resources. oh, well, you're the corporate genius here today apparently. educate us all . . . pretty please, with suga on top, big daddy.

honested
honested

@fiftythreepercenter 

You identify one of the major faults in the idea of 'competition'.....

That might explain why Banks have worked so hard to eliminate Credit Unions.

LeninTime
LeninTime

@fiftythreepercenter 

Nothing, except where the capital to start the business comes from

***
Is startup financing the only value that goes into the success of a firm? 

Without the value created by the workers, there is no success. 

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@Hedley_Lammar Nonsense. There are plenty of companies that treat their employees like sh--t and thrive. WalMart. 53's fav, McD's, Verizon come quickly to mind.

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@Hedley_Lammar Ultimately . . .of course. Is that before or after they don't value their employees and run off with all the money?

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@LeninTime I was under the impression those workers were compensated for their contributions to the company.  Perhaps if the employees are comfortable with idea of losing their investment they'll assume the initiative to create their own business.   This really shouldn't be that difficult.

GaBlue
GaBlue

@fiftythreepercenter 

Here in Georgia, if you want to build a nuclear power plant, you get the legislature and public service commission in your back pocket, so they'll confirm a rate hike for current power customers, which amounts to INVESTMENT CAPITAL. So, unless Grandma wants to live without electricity, she HAS to invest in the power plant, which she'll likely not live long enough to see.

Of course, cost overruns will drag the project out years and tens of millions (hundreds?) beyond budget, but that's not the power company's problem. They have captive investors.

Now, supposing Grandma lives long enough to see the power plant come on line, will she get her investment back, with interest? HAHAHAHA! That's a big Nooooooooooooooooo. She will, however, get the privilege of paying premium prices for the electricity, while the power company's owners enjoy the profits.

Socialize the risk -- Privatize the profit. That's how we do it here.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@consumedconsumer @Hedley_Lammar  99.7 percent

American Business Overwhelmingly Small Business.

In 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, there were 5.68 million employer firms in the United States. Firms with fewer than 500 workers accounted for 99.7 percent of those businesses, and businesses with less than 20 workers made up 89.8 percent


The overwhelming majority of Americans don't work for McDonalds etc

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@Hedley_Lammar Talented people are valued (and well-compensated) for their contributions.   Untalented people are typically not valued and poorly compensated.   Skills matter.

honested
honested

@GaBlue @fiftythreepercenter 

In this particular case, the same amount of money could have been put into Consumer Rooftop Solar that would be ONLINE TODAY and not require massive interest payments and bogus 'profits' on cost overruns. Also, it wouldn't require massive decommissioning costs in the future which would be borne by the ratepayers.......

Of course, the real reason it is allowed, sensible solar deployment wouldn't concentrate money into the pockets of shareholders at the public's expense.

GeorgeStein
GeorgeStein

@stefpe That's cute, but no.   They obviously have intrinsic value as human beings, but as for their worth in the market, no, that's not to be valued at a rate higher than their wages.