Open letter to Senator Klobuchar regarding price spikes in insulin and other pharmaceuticals and medical devices

by Glen Wallace

Hi Senator Klobuchar, I just saw a feature on the KSTP news featuring some comments by you about the recent run-up in the price of insulin recently. I believe an ideal solution is one you and your colleagues on capitol hill have not even considered legislatively. The solution to spikes in the price of pharmaceuticals and medical devices would be for the government to take over the production and distribution of those pharmaceuticals and medical devices at cost. Currently there seems to be a habit of thinking among healthcare policy makers that traps them into assuming that the only option to getting a needed healthcare product to the patient is by way of the commercial markets.

But there shouldn’t be any barriers to the federal government taking on the role of the production and distribution of at least the medicines and devices that are outside of patent protection. And keep in mind many of the most notorious recent cases of price spikes occurred with products that were already outside of patent protection — including, but not limited to insulin and the epipen.

Also, there is a long standing precedent of the federal government owning and operating the means of production and distribution of a product — the Government Publishing Office, formerly known as the Government Printing Office, has been around for many decades manufacturing, printing, publishing and selling to individuals and institutions everything from books to pamphlets to posters and just about everything printable in between.

Therefore, there should be nothing stopping the Senate and House from mandating the opening of a Government Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Office to bypass the market and get the needed healthcare products directly to the patients at the mere cost of production.

For years now I have been seeing hearings and statements from representatives such as yourself ranging from scolding to pleading of manufacturers to try and keep their prices down. I ask you; who’s in charge here? When I hear only talk from you in the form of scolding and pleading to some Big Pharma executive, it sure looks like it is the Big Pharma companies that are the ones in charge. I thought we were a country of, by and for the people. If they will not bring the prices down, then we the people should engage that American can-do spirit, and make those products ourselves.

And this could be just the beginning — we could start building a medical system that is entirely patient driven instead of where it is now in being market driven. I think people that go into the medical profession do it first and foremost because they care about people. With a patient driven, patient based system we can have as the primary decision makers, about what medical drug or device goes into production and their prices, be those medical professionals that care about the patients and not some bean counting CEO with only a legal fiduciary responsibility to some distant shareholders.

Referenced news story about insulin prices featuring Klobuchar comments

 

 

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Democratic Party Strategy

by Glen Wallace

We need a strong central government imposing regulations to protect the common man from the tyranny of the wealthy.  While, as a leftie progressive, I’m willing to admit that some regulations are onerous and unnecessary, I never seem to hear from a right wingnut regressive admitting that some regulations are helpful and needed to protect the worker, the consumer and the environment from harm or exploitation at the hands of a ruthless businessman.  It seems like the free market set want to create a social political environment where we return to the days of company towns where the residents are considered to have freedom because they aren’t physically restrained from leaving — never mind that the company town is in the middle of nowhere and none of the residents own a car or have a dime to their name that could be used to move out.

Sure, let’s remove the income tax and put in its place a federal property tax on the wealthy that covers not just real estate but any and all assets held by the top one tenth of one percent.

Good regulations are proactive whereas, any competitive marketplace without any regulation, is, at best, reactive in dealing with problems.  I say ‘at best’ because some business can go on harming customers, the environment or workers for years or decades before, or if ever, they get punished in the marketplace for their actions.

The Democratic Party could gain their biggest strength by undermining or outright removing the biggest rallying points for the political right wing.  Democrats could start by eliminating income tax for most, if not all, the 99 percent.  The loss of revenue could be compensated for by increasing the income tax on the top of the top one percent.  Additionally, there are a great number of other sources of potential revenue the could, and should be tapped — high frequency trading machine tax, VAT tax, where resource extraction on Federal lands is a given, the transaction should be designed with a fiduciary responsibility towards the owners of that land — the citizens of the U.S.  Additionally, the power over the ability to create money needs to be returned entirely to the people and taken away from the private Federal Reserve Banking system.  I’m not saying “end the Fed”.  If they want to continue as a industry association where banks can voluntarily join, that’s fine.  But monetary policy should be set by the US Treasury.  While supporters and representatives may claim that the Fed is audited and nothing untoward has been found, I would counter that there still could be something untoward going on with the Fed and its relationship to the American people it is supposed to be looking out for.  While the Fed may have only one set of accounting books, it may have two sets of strategy books.  That is, it may have a public strategy that complies with the Congressional mandate it is supposed to follow, it may have a private strategy that it instead follows that is directed at aiding the Fed’s shareholders at the expense of the American people.  For, instance, had Fed insiders known early in the 2000’s where the housing crisis was heading they could have made some strategic shorts, thus benefiting from the Fed’s strategy to blow up the housing bubble.  Then when the bubble burst, Fed insiders could have had inside knowledge of the QE program and how it would be used to boost commodities and the stock market for which the insiders could take a long position ahead of the rise.

But regardless, Democrats need to look at what is motivating the populist base of the Republican party that leads them to vote the way they have.  And then have an answer that might just persuade them to switch sides.  Remember, most of those Republican voters are not rich.  Hired disinfo agents may try to fire up that middle to lower class Republican base by complaining about wealth redistribution.  But I find it hard to believe that base will get worked up into much of a lather when hearing about how some sherry swilling, tailored suit wearing, manicured male with soft hands that never have seen a callous in its life, with a sixty thousand dollar Patek Philippe watch sitting just above those soft hands, has to fork over more in taxes — especially when that would mean those working class Republicans get to avoid paying income tax altogether.

Additionally, where regulations are concerned, show how good regulations protect the consumer, the environment and the worker from unscrupulous business owners and how a strong government acts as a measure against such businesses.  Without a strong government there is a power mismatch between the little guy and the tycoon.  But where there is unnecessary, onerous regulations, Democrats should work hard being seen to end such bad regulations while continuing to strengthen, tweak, enhance old good regulations while enacting good new regulations

 

 

Single payer government health care as an incentive to bold entrepreneurship

by Glen Wallace

From the perspective of what I like to call ‘applied social political philosophy’, I prefer to bypass the whole debate about whether health care is a privilege or a right that the state is obligated to provide. Instead, I ask the question, is a society that provides universal health care coverage achieving an ideal compared to a society that doesn’t? Can that ideal be practically achieved using a reasonable level of human and material resources? If the answer to those two questions is ‘yes’, then proceed with taking steps towards the state providing universal coverage. If there isn’t yet sufficient support from the constituents for such coverage, then proceed with arguments and facts to sway them otherwise.

Regarding any counter arguments about government coverage leading to complacency, I think the facts and reasons point in the opposite direction. If memory serves me correctly, I believe I read a statistic that European nations are greatly outpacing the U.S. in rates of business startups. And given that universal single payer coverage is much more common in Europe, it would stand to reason that that difference is a fundamental reason for Europe besting the U.S. in such bootstrapping. That’s because here in America, the worker is much too dependent on their employer for health care coverage and thus discouraged from even dipping their feet into the business startup waters.

Compare the American worker with dreams of starting their own business but are wary of leaving their employer with its comfortable health insurance coverage with the Scandinavian worker who knows they and their family would be assured of health care coverage whether their business startup idea works or not. Our system of private insurance, generally provided through employment, acts as a disincentive to bold entrepreneurship. Conversely, a single payer universal coverage system, by limiting risk, would act as an incentive to the sorts of bold bootstrapping that built the United States business empire — an empire that is now showing signs of flagging compared with the rest of the developed word that wisely provides universal healthcare coverage.

VA problems are no reason to abandon single payer idea

by Glen Wallace

 

While some may like to point out how the VA has supposedly done such a bad job, as a reason why the government shouldn’t take over health care, they are ignoring some important counter arguments or reasons supporting government takeover.  For one, the negative accounts about the VA that people tend to refer to, are to a large extent brought to you by private, for profit, news media that gets a substantial portion of ad revenue from private insurers that have a vested interest in retaining the private health insurance system.  As a result I believe the private news programs are highlighting, focusing and magnifying the VA’s problems, while largely ignoring similar issues and problems that plague the private health insurance system.  One need only look at the online reviews of private insurers to find a plethora of examples that make those insurer’s look even worse than the VA.  And if a single payer system were implemented, then it would be more of an expansion of Medicare than an expansion of the the VA.

 

Before Obamacare was implemented, while listening to an NPR feature about individuals having problems with private insurers, if I remember correctly, I believe they quoted a statistic that two thirds of all individuals that declare medical bankruptcy, already had health insurance at the time of their bankruptcy.  And the reasons for such bankruptcies wasn’t just due to high deductibles, many were the result of disagreements between insurers and providers about what procedures are, or should have been covered.  As a result, a patient ends up being responsible for for medical bills they thought were covered.  Sometimes the patients can end up getting such bills lowered or covered by the insurer, but getting to that point often turns into a full time job for the patient in the form of phone calls, and negotiations with a hospital and insurer.  Hearing such stories one has to wonder “There has to be a better way!”  Well there is a better way and there also is no need to reinvent the wheel — that better way is already being used successfully in most of Europe in the form of a government run single payer health care system.

Wealth Redistribution to Lift All Boats

by Glen Wallace

The dwindling middle class indicates that the only boats rising are yachts sitting in the torpid pools of wealth amassed by the capitalist sharks. Meanwhile, the middle class tributaries are running bone dry, leaving the middle class row boats sitting on dust. Therefore, the only logical solution is to install pumps in the form of asset taxes into those stagnant wealth pools to insure that the wealth gets rerouted and redistributed back into those tributaries. Trickle down economics has been proven false time and again. However, getting money into the hands of those who will in turn put those funds back into circulation by spending it, the middle class, has been shown to have a tremendous positive knock-on effect throughout the overall economy. But to keep the economy booming you need to keep those tax pumps going to insure money doesn’t start stagnating again and rotting in those torpid wealth pools.

Everything is pointing to Hayek being completely wrong — in fact he had everything backwards. Instead of a free-market being the road to freedom, it turns out that the term ‘free-markets’ is just a rebranding of the term ‘laissez faire’. And laissez faire has always been and always will be the direct route to serfdom — and with the struggling middle class we are seeing that first hand in the form of the handywork of Hayek’s intellectual descendants, the Chicago School of economics. And despite the clear evidence that the Chicago school’s laissez faire or freemarket methods of hands-off through repeal of Glass-Steagall and lack of oversight and control of the derivatives market lead directly to the great recession, there has been little corresponding acknowledgment or recognition of the evident refutation of the Chicago School’s economic paradigm.

We can get the middle class back on its feet again, but we need judicious government oversight and regulation along with a good amount of wealth redistribution. One excellent means of redistributing the wealth would be through programs similar to FDR’s programs involving the Civilian Conservation Corp. A massive government program to repair, rebuild and reinforce our nations infrastructure would go a long ways towards getting money back into the economy and refresh and enhance the conduits of commerce. It would be a win win for everyone, including the much more heavily taxed very wealthy who didn’t even know what to do with all that they had, but with such a program, could be proud that their tax dollars were put to such good use; rebuilding a great America.

Some Thoughts on Democracy Libertarianism and Communism

Communism should be thought of more as an ideal rather than a system of governance. Democracy, on the other hand, is a system of governance used as a means to achieve the ideal of communism. Republicanism, or representative democracy, on the other hand, has shown itself to be an abysmal failure at achieving what it is supposed to achieve — a means to represent the wishes and needs of the people that are supposed to be represented. There are three fundamental causes for that failure of republicanism or representative democracy. First, it insulates the representatives from accountability by the constituents. Second, it facilitates easy control by the hidden powers of the representatives. Third, it encourages a psychological regression of the constituents back to their childhood into thinking of their representatives as parental figures. With direct democracy, all three of those causes of the failure of republicanism are eliminated — First, there is no insulation of accountability because the people are the government Second, the hidden powers would find it impossible to corrupt, control or eliminate the masses, and Third, with direct democracy there would be no escaping for the constituents from the realization that they are adults with the adult responsibility of running the country.

Some interesting comparisons can be made between the Communist Party and the Libertarian party insofar as they both focus on the property rights of workers wages regardless of the relevancy of those rights to the namesake ideals of either party. With the former, the capitalist owner is accused of stealing the portion of the workers wages that rightfully belongs to them and with the latter, the government is accused of stealing the portion of the workers wages that is taken away in the form of income tax. But in neither situation is either supposed violation of property rights necessarily detrimental to either communal living or freedom. Granted, I would strongly tend to side with the workers vs capitalist owners in any dispute, I can think of scenarios where meeting the Marxist requirement of giving the worker the material fruits of their labor does not progress towards the ideal of communal living. In the traditional household role of the husband going off to work and the wife staying at home, to tend the household and rear the children, the wife may not be getting any income at all. It is possible under those circumstances that the husband may refuse to give his wife any allowance, leaving his wife destitute. Additionally, there could also be instances of the disabled, infirm and elderly that are unable to work, in which case they would not be mixing their labor with any material that would lead to a finished product that they could reap an economic benefit from. Additionally, as we continue to march be leaps and bounds towards intelligent automation, we may be entering a period in human history where the treatment of workers wages becomes less relevant to the goal of achieving an ideal society. We may have to stop focusing on property rights, and start focusing on how to distribute those necessarily limited material resources in a manner where the ideal of freedom through communal living is maximized.

I’ve noticed that with contemporary libertarians that they seem to hold great value in protecting property rights regardless of how much that protection limits the freedom of those owning little to no property. Liberty, after all, is just the Latin word for freedom. But somewhere along the line, libertarians became much more focused on protecting property rights and opposing the government and taxes, while losing sight of their party’s and movements namesake ideal. There could be a scenario where just one person has the rights to nearly all the property in the land, leaving the masses destitute and in rank poverty, and the libertarians would insist that the one wealthy man should be allowed to keep all his property regardless of how much poverty robs the masses of their own freedom. The masses could be living under the tyranny of poverty, and today’s so called libertarians would be OK with that as long as nobody was taxed and everyone’s property rights were respected. Where is the liberty for the masses in such a scenario, and why would the libertarians be ok with so little freedom for so many?

The Two Sides of Bitcoin

Bitcoin seems to have a problem with its identity, and it is that identity crisis that may be its undoing. Bitcoin supporters seem to want to have both their libertarian ideals and speculative capitalism all at once. In order for Bitcoin to work at all there has to be a certain degree of cooperation among the Bitcoin community. The value of Bitcoin as a commodity used as a means to transfer value depends on Bitcoin’s value as a commodity used as a speculative investment vehicle and vice versa. Bitcoin will have no value as a value transfer device — a way to pay for things or send money, if the speculators on the currency exchange believe the dollar value of Bitcoin will fall precipitously. Conversely, the speculators will not give any value to Bitcoin if there is no demand to use it as a way to pay for things.

The long list of companies now accepting Bitcoin as payment are all treating it as a ‘hot potato currency’  — they all want to exchange the Bitcoins they receive for dollars, as quickly as possible, before they might realize a loss in dollar value. It is understandable that those companies make such an effort to accept Bitcoins given that in so doing they will likely receive new customers from the loyal and enthusiastic Bitcoin community.

I actually would love to see some way of being able to pay for something electronically without going through Visa or MasterCard — I think those companies must be making money hand over fist on all those transaction fees for each and every purchase. But as a consumer that does not own or manage a business, I think I am in a minority in terms of being bothered by the transaction fees charged to the vendor with each purchase made by a credit card. Yes, those large transaction fees are avoided by Bitcoin, but how is that an incentive for the average consumer that doesn’t give much thought to macroeconomic principles and philosophy? It is the average ‘Soccer Mom’, or ‘NASCAR Dad’ or company softball league player that goes to the sports bar after the game that needs to adopt Bitcoin in a widespread fashion for virtual currency to become commonplace. But there is little incentive for those outside of the Bitcoin believers to adopt the virtual currency. If the consumer gets ripped off they can’t get a charge back like they can with a credit card. And if Bitcoin loses value relative to the dollar the holder of the Bitcoin is out that value with no recourse there as well. Given those facts, why would the average consumer be expected to adopt Bitcoin as their regular method of payment? And if widespread adoption never happens, then what is the long term outlook for the value of Bitcoin?

Looked at from the perspective of the speculative trader, there are some vulnerabilities to Bitcoin. Perhaps the biggest vulnerability on the value as a commodity end is its lack proprietary value. While there may be some inherent value that is ingeniously built into Bitcoin, as far as I know, there is no exclusive license to the mathematical and computer science technology that make the transfer of value utility possible. There are currently at least 500 different virtual currencies in existence, and I’m sure most if not all of them use the same mathematical and computer science principles as Bitcoin. While Bitcoin may have, by far, the most widespread use of all the virtual currencies, I don’t believe any contracts exist to insure and assure that will continue to be the case in the future. If another virtual currency were to come along as the new favorite, then is there any written or unwritten understanding among the current Bitcoin community that they wouldn’t, after seeing their Dollar to Bitcoin ratio plummet, cut their losses and bail from Bitcoin and hop on the next virtual currency bandwagon?

A problem arises of potentially either inflation or deflation occurring with cryptocurrencies given their lack of government control and oversight.  So, it is the very quality of being outside of government and central bank control that leaves virtual currencies vulnerable to inflation or deflation.  If Bitcoin were to remain the only predominant virtual currency, given its built in mining limits and reductions, then deflation becomes a potential problem.  Indeed, deflation appears to have already set in with Bitcoin, whereby for any given product fewer bitcoin or smaller fractions of a bitcoin are needed to buy that product.  Deflation happens when there is a reduction in the money supply relative to the quantity of goods or services on the market.  The problem there is that an incentive is created for the consumer to delay spending their money as it gets increasingly precious and less of it is needed to acquire any needed or wanted goods or services as time goes by.  For instance, if someone sees a product that they can buy today for one bitcoin, that last year required two bitcoins to purchase, the consumer sees a trend telling them that waiting to buy the product is advantageous.  If they can hold off their purchase for a while, the consumer may think that in a few months they can get that same product for just a half a bitcoin.