Monopoly is the Enemy

Here in Miami, we at the People's Progressive Caucus have been levying a campaign against NextSource Biotechnology, a pharmaceutical company that made national headlines when the Wall Street Journal broke the story that they had hiked up the price on Gleostine, a brain cancer drug, by 1400%.

There are so many things wrong with NextSource's move it makes my head spin just to think about. Morally, the bankruptcy of exploiting dying patients because you know they and their insurers will pay anything to save their lives is so far beyond the pale that I honestly just can't even. That's it. There's no even to can, end of story.

Pragmatically, as an engineer, we see in this move one of the more toxic phenomena that occur in any technology business: an anti-technological intellectual asset exploitation. NextSource founder Robert DiCrisci has no technical background in biotechnology or medicine, rather he's a pure business man. This means that, for him, Gleostine is not a complex piece of technology that has material and real interactions with a complicated world, but rather it is a pure piece of value, a number on a spreadsheet that can be manipulated to maximize his bottom line. In any technology business, this is how you stifle innovation and ensure that you won't be generating new, innovative ideas: you must understand and respect the material relationship between research, product, and application in order to consistently provide long-term utility.

But as many things as there are that are sick and twisted about NextSource, in reality it's just part of a larger system of monopolistic price gouging. Pharmaceutical prices have skyrocketed across the board in the past decade, and the root of this is that pharmaceutical companies are systematically opposing competition and lobbying Congress for corrupt patent laws. And our Justice Department lacks the moral courage to apply existing anti-trust law to break these efforts.

I'm by no means an expert in pharmaceutical market-fixing, but the fellows of the Open Markets Institute are, and they've written a great primer on the history of drug prices and their interactions with anti-competitive practice.

What we get from this analysis is that we can (and we f*ckin-a shall) oppose individual toxic actors in this market; we can and we will organize in favor of drug reimportation and Medicare price negotiations; we can and we will continue to take to the streets over these issues; but it's all for naught without a systematic attack on the structures that entrench and re-entrench these exploitative practices. We must affirmationally stand for policies that encourage competition in consolidated markets, we must stand against monopolization (in pharmaceuticals and other markets), and we must guard strongly against policy proposals generated from actors who hold significant market share.

If we force some piece of legislature that caps pharmaceutical price increases at some small number per year, that and all of our efforts will be met with ever more insidious policy complications if we don't also force breakups in monopolists. On the other hand, if we break up these monopolies and attack the ability of the opposition to coordinate power towards toxic policy, we can more easily pass and then defend positive policy. And that's what we need to do here.

William Byatt