Capitalising on Human Suffering

Martin Shkreli, the CEO of a large pharmaceutical company that recently acquired the rights to a drug used by HIV and cancer patients, has brought the shocking callousness of unchecked capitalism into the spotlight.

Last month, Turing Pharmaceuticals bought the rights to manufacture and sell Daraprim in the United States. Daraprim is used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic and life-threatening disease that affects people with compromised immune systems.

Despite being classified as an essential medicine which should be affordable to the general population by the World Health Organisation, Turning Pharmaceuticals has raised the price of Daraprim extortionately, from $13 per 75mg pill to a massive $750 per pill. Each 75mg pill costs only $1 to produce. It is a single source pharmaceutical product, which means Turing Pharmaceuticals is the only company in America that has the legal right to produce and sell this potentially life-saving drug. Patients can’t take their business elsewhere.

Let’s really put that into perspective. For each Daraprim pill sold, Turing Pharmaceuticals will make a $749 profit. Around 2,000 Americans use the drug every year, with the average treatment course lasting around three weeks, at a dosage of 75mg per day. That means Turing Pharmaceuticals stand to make a profit of $27,258,000 from Daraprim sales every year, while the average American earns just $27,000 a year, barely enough to cover the cost of a three-week course of treatment.

Though most Americans who require treatment for Toxoplasmosis will be covered by their health insurance, some won’t, and insurance companies (too motivated by profit), will be forced to raise insurance premiums and/or make their policies stricter so as to avoid paying out huge sums to people in genuine need.

While most people are shocked and disgusted by Martin Shkreli’s brutal, cold, and calculated effort to make obscene profits off the backs of other people’s misfortune, the business of capitalising from human suffering extends far beyond this story.

 Weapons

Another example of bi business profiteering from human suffering has been brought to public attention recently through a campaign by Amnesty International. Until their recent advertising campaign, few people were aware that every two years a huge defence and security equipment exhibition called the Defence Security and Equipment International is held in London Docklands. Essentially, this is a trade show where arms dealers can display the latest technology in weaponry to military representatives, some from countries renowned for human rights abuses such as Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International, who have attended the fair a number of times, have reported that illegal torture equipment and weapons such as cluster bombs, leg irons, and electric shock batons have been advertised at the event. The trade show, which hosted 1,500 exhibitions in 2013, is owned by Clarion Events, a company that organises numerous such trade shows, and reportedly turns over £200 million every year. While arms companies profit from torture and (often illegal) wars, Clarion Events profits from introducing the arms dealers to totalitarian regimes at fairs like DSEI.

War

Profiteering from war might start with arms dealers, but that is by no means where it ends.One hundred and thirty-eight billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money was spent on securing contracts with private companies during the 2003 Iraq war, for services such as security, feeding troops, and replacing infrastructure that had been destroyed during the US-led coalition invasion.

Private mercenaries played a huge role in the war in Iraq, with companies such as the infamous Blackwater reaping large monetary rewards for providing armed “security personnel”. In August 2008 alone, there were 7,121 armed “private security contractors” deployed in Iraq.

The American company Halliburton was the biggest contract winner, securing $39.5 billion from the US government in exchange for their services during the invasion and subsequent occupation. This included a $7 billion deal for rebuilding Iraq’s oil infrastructure, a contract that would have given Iraq’s economy a huge boost had it been awarded to an Iraqi company or the state, as opposed to a multi-billion dollar US corporation.

What is perhaps most disturbing about these contracts, is that they were what is known as “cost-plus”. When a company is awarded a cost-plus contract, as well as having all their expenses covered, they are guaranteed to be paid a certain amount on top, in order to ensure that they make a substantial profit. Such contracts provide little incentive for these private companies to minimise costs. In fact, the opposite is true; they provide an incentive for contractors to spend more than necessary, as every extra dollar spent means extra profit.

It seems war is a profitable business.  Foreign corporations literally made billions of dollars from the deaths of 224,000 people, 165,000 of those being Iraqi civilians.

Incarceration

War is not the only atrocity private companies are profiting from. Private prisons are proving to be another lucrative business.

The US has 5% of the world’s population, but more than 20% of the world’s prisoners. It has more prisoners than China, Russia, and Iran. Despite decreasing crime rates, the prison population has grown by 721% since the 1980’s, with over 500 per 100,000 people being incarcerated in 2010The adoption of draconian “tough-on-crime” laws by the US government in the 1980s, such as mandatory minimum sentencing for minor drug-related offences, has been a large contributing factor to the dramatic increase in incarceration rates, with the majority of inmates serving long sentences for non-violent offences.

The private prison industry has been reaping huge rewards from the mass incarceration of US citizens that began in the 1980s, when the complete management of entire prisons began to be handed over to private corporations. Corrections Corporations of America, the biggest private corrections company in the US, was the first private company to be awarded a contract that covered the complete operation of an American jail in 1984. Now CCA manages more than 65 prisons across 19 states, and in 2015, the company’s revenue was more than $1.7 billion.

The privatisation of prisons isn’t limited to the United States. In 1992, under John Major’s Conservative government, Wolds Prison was opened as the first privately managed prison in the UK. Under the government’s Private Finance Initiative, 25-year contracts were awarded to private companies for the construction and management of new prisons. Of 150 prisons in the UK, 14 are managed by three private companies, G4S, Sodexo, and Serco, and it is estimated that these companies make a 7% return on their investment. Privatisation doesn’t seem to lead to efficiency either; in 2013, the Ministry of Justice awarded only one private prison their highest performance rating, while two were awarded the lowest rating and another two the second lowest rating.

These private prison corporations are profiting from people’s suffering. Many people in prison are addicts serving sentences for drug-related crimes, and a large number of those incarcerated in the US have mental health problems and a history of being abused. In 2012, there were an estimated 356,268 people with severe mental health problems locked up in US jails.

Often such problems are only exasperated by a punitive justice system that makes criminals out of vulnerable people. Following release and supposed rehabilitation, ex-convicts struggle to find employment because of their criminal records. In the US, ex –convicts lose their right to vote and are not entitled to state benefits, housing, food stamps, or student loans. This is a recipe for re-offending. Imprisonment not only removes vulnerable people from society, it makes their reintegration following incarceration very challenging.

The rise in the business of profiting from human suffering is a reprehensible result of a society moving away from state ownership to an increasingly privatised money making machine that is the globalised economy. The hands of private businesses are reaching into the darkest corners of our world, grabbing at every possible opportunity to make a profit. But making money from disease, war, and crime is not only immoral; basic economics shows that a growing market is a profitable one. For every sick person, every war, and every crime, there is money to be made, so there is a strong motive for businesses with interests in these “industries” to want the rates of these horrors to proliferate. We will never eradicate disease, achieve world peace, or eliminate crime while corporations are making billions from humanity’s biggest crises.

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The Politics of Fear and Hope

After waking up to a Conservative win in the 2015 general election, I resigned myself to the fact that politics was futile. Though only 34% of the electorate voted Conservative, the UK was faced with 5 more years of rule by an elite group of neoliberal free marketers who, despite having just approved £4.4 billion in working tax credit cuts , somehow brazenly spout “party of the working man” rhetoric. I felt hopeless. Politics was dead for me.

As you would expect after such a disheartening result, I paid little attention to the Labour leadership election. What difference would it make to me? But as the days went by and a media fervour surrounding the election began to develop, I noticed one name was cropping up considerably more than most. Jeremy Corbyn. Before I even looked into his political history and the policies he advocates, I could tell he must be on the left of the political spectrum, given the hounding he was already receiving from the right wing press. But I was expecting the usual stuff that comes from “left-wing” labour politicians – slightly higher taxes, some superfluous vanity “tax on the wealthy” (like Miliband’s mansion tax), and duplicitous anti-Tory rhetoric. So I was very surprised when I read more about Jeremy Corbyn’s policies and political history. A rebel who regularly voted with his convictions rather than the whip. A supporter of raising the highest rate of income tax, clamping down on tax avoidance, and eradicating homelessness and poverty through controlling rents, building more social housing, and introducing a real living wage. An anti-war campaigner who proposes dropping the trident nuclear program. I didn’t quite believe it – these views can be seen outside the mainstream political arena in parties such as the Greens. But coming from a possible future Labour leader? With my newly gained cynicism for British politics, I definitely didn’t think he could win the leadership election.

In stark contrast to the mainstream, centrist politics that have dominated in Britain over the past 40 years, politics that are driven purely by fear, Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are the politics of hope. The politics of hope for a better future, not only for Britain, but for the whole world.

Fear has been behind so many of the policies we have seen in our recent political history.

Tony Blair’s New Labour came out of fear – Labour abandoned their principles out of fear of losing another election to the Tories.  Tony Blair took us to war out of fear – an irrational and unjustifiable fear that Saddam Hussein had nuclear capabilities.

Year after year the government justifies spending billions on nuclear weapons out of fear – fear that if we don’t have them, someone will attack us.

David Cameron is likely to propose air strikes in Syria, pushing this agenda through by instilling in the public fear of ISIS.

Neoliberal MPs continue to refuse to do anything about tax evasion, hiding behind the narrative of trickledown economics and the fear that corporations “will take their business elsewhere”.

Right wing parties like Britain First are trying to strip us of our humanity and compassion, our natural human instinct to want to help other people, by spreading an irrational fear that hidden amongst the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe, are well trained ISIS terrorists.

UKIP have gained substantial support off the back of a narrative that has left people terrified that they will lose their job, their house, and their culture to people who were born in other countries.

So how could this politician, with his policies that are fostered out of the hope for a better world, be elected leader in a country where the people are constantly bombarded with a narrative designed to instil fear?

Still weighed down myself with the politics of fear, and with little hope left for anything progressive in the foreseeable future, I didn’t let myself believe the polls. Going against my own principles, I believed the press – there was no way Labour party members would vote for someone with socialist policies. I watched the leadership election on September 12th, 2015 with baited breath. For me, and for many people that day, who had lost all faith in British politics, something changed. Hope won over fear. I had feared that the smear campaign by the press would have been successful in preventing people from voting for Jeremy Corbyn. I feared the media tycoons had convinced everyone that socialism was evil and that free market capitalism was god. But when I saw that figure, 59%… when I saw the people celebrating in the streets and the excitement spreading amongst the young and disenchanted, I once again felt hope, and I saw it in other people too.

It has been only days since Jeremy won, and already the press and the Tories have started their campaign against him and his socialist policies. Unsurprisingly, they are using their tried and tested weapon of scaremongering. The Sun, drawing on a speech Jeremy made at the annual commemoration service for the people who were killed in the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, claim Jeremy wants to “Abolish the Army”. This is what Jeremy actually said:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their Armed Forces did what Costa Rica have done and abolished their Army, and took pride in the fact they don’t have an Army.”

Surely everybody thinks it would be wonderful if no country needed an army? He is talking hypothetically, and, unsurprisingly, The Sun took what he said completely out of context, in an effort to make people afraid that a Labour victory in the 2020 election would leave us completely defenceless.

The Tories, in their sinister video backed by sinister music, made the bold assertion that Jeremy Corbyn is a “threat to our national security”. The video purports to outline the “facts” about the new leader. These “facts” are based on heavily misconstrued comments he made in past speeches and interviews.

Firstly, the video claims that Jeremy Corbyn views the death of Osama Bin Laden as “a tragedy”. This is in reference to an interview he gave to Iranian Press TV channel’s “The Agenda” programme, shortly after Bin Laden’s assassination in 2011. If you watch the video, it is clear that he is referring to the failure of the US to capture Bin Laden and try him for his crimes as a tragedy (you can watch part of the interview here). He also condemns the attack on the World Trade Centre and its fall out; “The World Trade Centre was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died. Torture has come back on to the world stage, been canonised virtually into law by Guantanamo and Bagram.”

The Tory propaganda piece also displays footage of Jeremy Corbyn calling members of Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”. The footage is taken from a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave at a meeting about crises in the Middle East, a meeting that was also attended by members of Hezbollah, and to which members of Hamas were invited. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that he does not condone the actions of Hezbollah or Hamas, but that he believes they should be invited to such events, as their inclusion in the discussion is needed if a peaceful resolution is ever to be made between Israel and these two groups (you can read the interview transcript here). Surely anything we can do which helps bring peace this troubled region should be considered?

Finally, the video claims Jeremy Corbyn wants to “dismantle our armed forces”. This claim stems from a speech in which he questions the size of our armed forces in relation to the size and location of our country; isn’t this a legitimate debate, when 2% of our GDP goes towards military spending, yet the government is proposing a further £12 billion in cuts to welfare spending? It is the media induced fear of war, of Islamic fundamentalism, of Russia and China, that allows for the Tories and the right wing media to portray the concept of a pacifist leader as terrifying.

The attacks by the press and the Tories are relentless. Today, The Sun and The Daily Mail have attempted to portray him as an anti-royalist who has no respect for those who fought against fascism in the World Wars, because he didn’t sing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain memorial service. Quite ironic that, at a service where we remember the people who fought against oppression and fascism, you can be criticised for choosing to express your respect with silence, rather than pledging allegiance to an unelected monarch when you are in fact a republican. The Times claimed he rides a “Chairman Mao style bicycle” and Piers Morgan compared him to Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. If comparing a socialist leader in modern Britain to authoritarian dictators who were responsible for the deaths of millions isn’t scare mongering, then I don’t know what is.

Undoubtedly this is only the beginning of the smear campaign against the newly elected Labour leader. But his election on Saturday has shown us something – the people are fed up of the oppressive fear being forced upon them by the press, and are turning instead to hope, inspired by someone who does not accept that “the way things are” are how they should be or how they have to be. The oligarchs behind the papers, that rely on unchecked capitalism and profiteering from wars in order to keep them obscenely wealthy and powerful, seem to be the ones running scared now. They are terrified of the rise in popularity of socialist parties like SYRIZA and Podemos, and of socialist leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, because they represent a threat of change to a broken and unfair system where it is corporations that govern our world.