What the Mylan Epipen Scandal Tells Us About American Capitalism

Few business practices better illustrate the illegitimacy of our current system of rentier-capitalism than the pharmaceutical giant Mylan jacking up the price of Epipens. It's the outcome of a rigged system that would be prohibited in any nation with a national health care system.

About 15 million Americans depend on these vital drug delivery devices to quickly administer antidotes to severe allergic reactions. What would cost a family in any other major nation about $50 per dose for this life-saving medicine now costs Americans over $600.

Mylan's price gouging has nothing to do with the costs of "research and development" or supply and demand. This obscene price hike is nothing more than a "rent," pure and simple. Mylan is extorting Americans who depend on the drug because it can.

The Mylan Epipen episode has all of the familiar hallmarks of greed and pathology. The Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, whose salary rose from $2 million-a-year to nearly $19 million following the Epipen price gouging, is the daughter of Senator Joe Manchin, the "Democrat" from West Virginia. Her father helped write the laws that enable her company's big swindle and got a lot of campaign donations from Big Pharma.

Rubbing salt into the wound, Mylan has already "left the country" through the chicanery of corporate "inversion" where an American company with its headquarters, assets and markets in the United States "merges" with a foreign corporation to become no longer an "American" company subject to paying U.S. taxes.

"Inversion" is just one of many legal tricks and off-shore schemes corporations use to duck paying taxes in the United States. So U.S. taxpayers provide Senator Manchin's salary while his daughter's company skirts paying anything, and Americans dependent on Epipens get screwed. If taxes are the price we pay for the benefits of "civilization" then Mylan is run by a bunch of cannibals.

Worse still, it was through their taxes that U.S. citizens financed the costly R and D phase for the Epipen device in the first place as part of a Defense Department program seeking quick ways to administer antidotes.

So the only reason why the Epipen exists was through U.S. government expenditures and investments and now a rapacious corporation that refuses to pay U.S. taxes monopolizes the device and extorts U.S. citizens.

But of course Mylan isn't alone.

In addition to the hundreds of U.S. corporations exploiting the legal loophole of "inversion," there are many pharmaceutical companies purchasing the patents for life-saving drugs and then ripping off sick people. It's their "business model." Valeant did it with a crucial heart drug that hospitals depend on, and Martin Shkreli (Pharma Bro) did it with an AIDS drug.

These are all examples of corporations not only being viewed as "people" in our legal code, but actually possessing more rights and privileges than mere mortals.

American capitalism in the 21st century, with its courts and political elites enforcing a kind of economic caste system, has more in common with the social order of 18th century European mercantalism than it does with anything we read in Economics 101 textbooks. It was a time when institutions like the East India Company used its financial and economic power to enforce all manner of rents and fees on the rest of society through controlling the mechanisms of government. Parliament or kings doled out monopolies and the companies could do anything they wanted. Today, we might not have lords and dukes sitting in parliament but the same kind of unjust robbery and plunder is taking place, it's just a little more high-tech and globalized.

The fact that this sordid practice of manipulating the patent laws to fleece people with allergies has any legal bearing at all only serves to further de-legitimize the "establishments" of both major political parties, the Congress and all the other governing and regulatory institutions.

If our political representatives cannot protect the people from this form of extortion that is rampant throughout our failed health care system then what's the point of having elections or representatives at all?

I'm beginning to better understand the nihilism that has surfaced in American politics during the insufferable 2016 election.