Monday, September 21, 2015

Capitalism and capital punishment: Martin Shkreli edition

Crimes like this sorely test my opposition to capital punishment.

Specialists in infectious disease are protesting a gigantic overnight increase in the price of a 62-year-old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection.
The drug, called Daraprim, was acquired in August by Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager. Turing immediately raised the price to $750 a tablet from $13.50, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“What is it that they are doing differently that has led to this dramatic increase?” said Dr. Judith Aberg, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She said the price increase could force hospitals to use “alternative therapies that may not have the same efficacy.”
Turing’s price increase is not an isolated example. While most of the attention on pharmaceutical prices has been on new drugs for diseases like cancer, hepatitis C and high cholesterol, there is also growing concern about huge price increases on older drugs, some of them generic, that have long been mainstays of treatment. [my bolding]
The fact that grabbing rights to old drugs with no competitors and shooting their prices into the stratosphere is not counted as criminal is itself a crime. 

Martin Shkreli is the criminal* mastermind behind Turing Pharaceuticals, whose previous criminal* enterprise, Retrophin, fired him and is now suing and being sued by him. In a morally just universe, pirates like him would not be embroiled in litigation in civil court. They would stand criminal trial and if convicted, face sentences sufficient to deter others from embarking on similar criminal enterprises---and that's where capital punishment comes in. There is little to no evidence that the possibility of capital punishment deters murderers, but when criminal entepreneurs are weighing profits against losses and risks of various business plans, even the small probability of being executed might have a significant effect on the balance sheet.

*Yes, it is arguable that these enterprises break no laws, but they are criminal in the sense that there should be laws that their business plan breaks.

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