Advertising Pharmaceuticals – Gateway Drugs to Slavery?

I found this topic
on Liberty Belles entertaining, and since I wrote much of what I’m about to quote, I’m posting it. As was said about Saddam’s baby formula factories/WDM precursor facilities, it’s “dual use.” ;)

The discussion
(That Menace, “Artificial Demand”) was initiated by Clara, in a nice put down of Bill Frist’s recent venture into the populist thickets:

Drug companies spend quite a bit of money on advertising. (How else do you convince someone to pay money to ingest a tiny, tasteless pill?)

Magazine spreads and TV spots drive up the prices of said drugs. And since we in the cozy community of America get footed with the bills for our neighbors’ health care, we all want to keep prices down.

It’s not just that the ads are expensive, according to Dr. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). They also create “artificial demand” for drugs, and when demand goes up, prices follow. Frist proposes to ban advertisements for drugs that have been on the market less than two years.

Well, that would certainly lower demand for a new drug. Keep prices down, too. Problem solved.

How will Dr. Frist address the problem of “artificial demand” for his presidency when he runs for office in 2008, buying TV time and traveling the country.

I posted a comment (not reproduced below) indicating that however much we might dislike pharmaceutical ads, they did have some use. For example, they’re banned in Canada because the price controllers don’t want to have to explain multi-year delays in approving new drugs, or why generic drugs cost twice as much in Canada as in the US.

In watching the posts, it became more interesting a bit later with this statement about drug companies made by a contributor I will leave entirely anonymous:

If the [drug] company is only interested in keeping a person alive for its own profit, that can be considered slavery.

Following are excerpts from the ensuing thread:


Do you have a right to liberty, to being your own master? Yes.

Do you have a right to the most cutting-edge anti-[insert disease here] drug? No. Because that would necessitate slavery. That would mean that someone else had to invent and manufacture that drug for your benefit, even if it meant enslaving that person.


I don’t think it would necessitate “slavery” per se. Assume that someone invented the drug, and has recouped all the money it took to develop it, plus a reasonable profit. If we take a small percentage of the output and give it to the neediest (judged by whatever standard), there would be inconvenience, but not slavery.


On the “slavery” question, the premises need straightening.

Of course it could not be slavery if I am able refuse to sell you my property or my labor. If I am not free in this reagrd it certainly would qualify as slavery.

As an example let’s say I own a house in New London, NJ. You want to buy it.

Slavery would only enter into this question if the government siezed my property because of your need.

That is no less, and no more, slavery than taking a small percentage of my house and giving it to – oh, let’s postulate Pfizer…

Stealing is stealing. A little bit of it is not a little bit immoral.

It can be justified only if you accept Marx’s “from each according to his means” trope.

The draft is slavery, The governmental determination of what represents “reasonable profit” is slavery.

The idea that a drug company charges what the market will bear for a drug is not slavery, nor does it even signify for such discussion.


I don’t think that a thief who takes your wallet has made you his “slave” just because he takes some percentage of your wealth by force.

The draft is closer to slavery because it hijacks a person’s entire life for some period of years, making it impossible for the person to work at all for himself, or to pursue happiness in any way other than what some other entity chooses for him.

Taxes suck, but they’re not slavery. Free prescription drugs is a stupid idea, but it doesn’t make Pfizer a “slave” to the elderly.



Your analogy is incomplete. To fix it we must postulate that the thief would steal my wallet every day. In which case I’d consider it slavery, because all my labor would belong to someone else by application, or threat, of violence.

Under these circumstances how am I to pursue happiness? Change the source of my stolen income? How can you argue that I’d be “working at all for” myself?

The thief may leave my choice of occupation up to me, but I don’t think my choice of revenue matters. The fact that it is stolen does.

This is what we call a “disincentive” to be productive. It is but a tiny step to the thief forcing me to work at gunpoint.

Forcing Pfizer to provide the results of their labor, or intellectual property, whether once or continously, makes them slaves to the entity reaping the benefit. Forcing people to sell their homes so that Pfizer can build an office makes those people slaves of the government through threat of violence. It does not matter how they earned their propertry. [sic]


If I took one penny from you at gunpoint every day of your life, would you be my slave?



I try to keep more than just one penny in my wallet, and the wallet was your idea. ;)

Regarding your new proposal: I couldn’t know that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow you’d only demand another penny. I’d live in fear of escalation. I certainly would not feel free if you were poking a gun in my face daily.

Do you argue that I would be?

It’s possible that not being free and slavery are not perfectly congruent, but it seems to me that they’re semantically close enough for government work.

Armed robbery doesn’t merely relieve one of one’s cash; it diminishes freedom, dignity and hope.

Loss of these is arguably characteristic of slavery.

This is not to argue, for example, that taxation makes me a slave. I am _willing_ to trade some freedom for some services. Once that bargain is struck, though, it’s very important not to let the congressunits assume I’m willing to pay for any old service at all. Say PBS.

A penny today. Two pennies tomorrow. Four pennies and rising on day three. Pretty soon I’m paying Bill Moyers’ salary.

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