On August 21st 2016, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an opinion piece attacking Mylan’s price gouging for the EpiPen and comparing it to price increases by Black Hills Energy. The problem, we are told by the headline, is government regulation and the answer is free market competition. Once again the editorial staff of the Gazette reveals both its hypocrisy and a disconnect from real life while it supports the increasingly Bizarro World of the current Republican Party.
For decades, the Republicans and their media minions have peddled the necessity of free markets, trickle-down economics, and decreasing government regulation. While I agree that a good argument can be made in support of free market capitalism, greed will always win out in the absence of government oversight. Trickle-down economics is a failure in part because of greed. Yet the Gazette insists that government regulation is the problem.
Let’s start with the hypocrisy that price gouging is a problem for a free enterprise system. For capitalism, charging what the market will bear is a fundamental principle. Does the Gazette deny this? Do they want a free-for-all competition to dispense life-saving drugs? Black Hills Energy has a government mandated monopoly to protect workers and consumers alike. In the early days of electrification, anyone and everyone could provide power. Safety shortcuts and bottom line thinking led to many deaths and injuries to both workers and consumers. So the government stepped in. The resulting regulatory agencies are supposed to protect the safety of workers and consumers from price gouging. But thanks to Citizens United, a decision the Gazette supports, corporations can buy the legislation they need to defang the regulatory agencies and allow them to screw over customers. I offer Massey Coal and their mines full of dead workers as a prime example.
In the case of the EpiPen, greed is the cause of the $600 price tag. But competition is not the answer. Without government encouragement and copyright protection, pharmaceutical companies would only do research and development of drugs that prove to be the most profitable. There aren’t enough people with severe allergies to make helping them profitable. EpiPens are just one egregious example of capitalism run amok. The technology was developed for the military using taxpayer money. Mylan bought the patent and started the price increases. Worse yet, they transferred their company’s base of operations to another country to avoid paying U.S. taxes. It is lack of government intervention that allows Mylan to put profit ahead of lives rather than too much government.
The answer to this type of greed is not less government regulation but more. The ACA has methods of addressing the issue of price gouging. But as long as the Republicans, with the support of the Gazette, refuse to do anything to make the ACA work better, the outrageous pricing on EpiPens will continue. Republicans and the Gazette don’t care that people’s lives are put in danger as long as they remain pure and faithful to their ideology. It is only through social media and the internet, new bastions of real democracy, that Mylan has been forced to offer generic EpiPens for $300 which is still too high.
The editors point to grocery stores as an example of how the free market protects consumers from price gouging. Obviously the editors at the Gazette are unfamiliar with Upton Sinclair or John Steinbeck’s work. But this example doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny. I offer contaminated food products from China as a rebuttal. Without government oversight, grocery chains would offer products that were cheap but dangerous. They would also build monopolies and raise their prices. We know this is true simply by looking at our past when grocers did exactly that. And price gouging is already in effect in poor neighborhoods. When contaminated food enters the food supply, it is government oversight that encourages corporations to act responsibly. Not their social conscience.
Exhibit A is the auto industry. For many years car makers used accounting to determine whether or not to issue a recall to fix defective auto parts. If the price of wrongful deaths settlements was less than the price of the recall, nothing got fixed until the newer models came out. Then the government stepped in and mandated recalls. It’s true that government regulation has increased the price of cars. But I would argue that the increased safety and fuel economy is worth it. The point is that neither the auto industry nor the food industry has a track record of protecting consumers without government oversight.
It is more than hypocritical of the Gazette to attack government regulation of life saving drugs while advocating that the government ban cannabis, which is also a life-saving drug for some people. It is a betrayal of conservative principles pure and simple. They have no problem benefiting from alcohol and tobacco which kill more people in a year than cannabis has in all of human history. These betrayals are the reason why so many people support Donald Trump, the Tea Party, or both. The Republican base is tired of being lied to. Even if they can’t recognize the lies themselves, they recognize the results. The sixteen trillion dollar transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top 1% over the last four decades is proof that without taxes and regulation, the greed of the rich and powerful will deny economic opportunity to the rest of us.
The Gazette supports the free market only when it benefits people and products that they agree with. Their hypocrisy and failed ideology is destroying the Republican Party. Reagan was wrong. Government is not the problem. A government that turns its back its citizens in order to feed the greed of the 1% is.