Here is a simple test from Ezra Klein over at Vox, This Paragraph Perfectly Sums up America’s Overreaction to Ebola. Look, I get it: it isn’t just Americans. Humans are like this. We don’t think statistically; we are afraid of whatever is being pushed by the media. This is why people are so afraid that their children are going to be kidnapped by some stranger but not at all concerned that they are going to drive in one of their friends’ cars.
Klein pointed out one of my favorite statistics: there are 200 million cases of malaria each year. It continues to be the biggest medical problem in the world today. But what are we worried about? Ebola. And there were just 7,000 confirmed cases of Ebola in this outbreak. That’s during the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Oh! My! God! How will be ever survive?
I don’t mean for anyone to get the impression that the Ebola outbreak isn’t serious for those who are being effected by it. But it’s pretty minor in the grand scheme of things and it isn’t an issue in the United States at all. It reminds me very much of the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. As bad a disease as ALS is, it is a minor disease. And all that “awareness” could have been focused on a disease that had a larger effect on humanity.
And this brings me back to what I always come back to: malaria. Why have we not cured it? Because it is a disease that affects mostly poor people. As a result, drug companies don’t spend their research dollars working on it. But each new year comes another drug to cure erectile dysfunction. If ever there were a reason to nationalize drug research, it would be this.
The claim that we need the “free market” in drugs and long patent protections is that drug companies wouldn’t innovate if they couldn’t sell a drug for hundreds of times what it would sell for in an actually free market. I’m not sure this logic ever flew, but it certainly isn’t the case today. I say get rid of drug patents, and use the estimated $60 billion per year that we save to have the government hire scientists to do research. As it is, that is far more than the drug companies spend on R&D.
Contrary to what conservatives claim, the free market isn’t perfect. What’s more, patents distort the free market. And finally, the way we bring new drugs to market is stupid. It is a way to bring only drugs to market that rich people want, because they can pay the exorbitant prices. Given that the public is currently freaked out about Ebola, that could actually do a bit of good. But as I’ve already pointed out, even Ebola isn’t that important a disease. And within a month or two, rich Americans will have forgotten about Ebola and so the drug companies will be back to pushing boner pills.