Internet mogul and founder of Vice, Shane Smith often talks about ‘the absurdity of the modern condition’, and claims his purpose at Vice is to highlight it through provocative journalism (annoyingly, Smith aims much of this at twenty-something hipsters). But if you spend a couple of minutes browsing headlines from around the world, you’ll see he sort of has a point.
Take the current economic crisis currently engulfing most of Europe – a self imposed orgy of ideological madness that is threatening to consign an entire generation to unemployment, poverty, and rage.
Greece is now so completely screwed by austerity measures imposed on it by Germany that not only is its homegrown pharmaceutical industry disintegrating, major international companies are withholding shipments to the country in order to protect their profits. The Greek economy is such a basket case that its government can no longer negotiate effectively with investors and traders for the benefit of its people. According to a report on TheRealNews:
Large corporations, including AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Roche, and Sanofi have decided to withhold drugs from the Greek market.
In June 2012, a medicine shortage was reported in Greece. Drug companies accused EOPYY, Greek’s main health insurance fund, of owing them EUR 540 million. This February the shortage spread, and affects more drugs and more patients. Withheld drugs include, among other things, treatments for hepatitis, arthritis, bowel disease, hypertension, and high-cholesterol, as well as antibiotics and anesthetics.
Greece took action to reduce its expenditures in 2010 under severe pressure from its debtors, cutting health costs by 21.5%. This meant that they could only buy drugs at a lower cost, betting the gigantic pharmaceutical companies would swallow the losses given they would still be making a profit. Instead, the companies decided that rather than ensure people could get treatment for serious ailments like cancer (while still making money), they would rather protect their business model of extracting as much profit as possible at all times. According to TheRealNews report,
The corporations are worried that Greeks will export the cheap drugs to other European countries. Because of the E.U. trade rules, the drugs could be exported without customs and sold for a lower price in other European countries, thereby threatening the profits of the corporations also in countries which were hurt less severely by the economic crisis.
So Greece is not only drowning under the weight of debt, big business is standing over it and pouring buckets of water on top for good measure. The mega pharmaceutical companies aren’t pulling out because they are losing money – they are pulling out because they are, for want of a better description, greedy bastards.
If an alien was looking down and trying to figure out how difference species on earth organize themselves, they’d spend a good deal of time trying to figure out exactly what the hell human beings were up to. To describe the economic engine by which we produce food and materials to live on as schizophrenic would be an understatement. It is complete insanity. Human beings do not live in a world where resources are distributed according to geography or need. They are distributed by a never ending and psychopathic need for profit, regardless of the consequences to actual people.
If a village surviving off of locally caught fish is subjected to the dictates of market fundamentalism, their fish could very likely be sold elsewhere for higher profit. Under a free market system, this inevitably happens. What happens to the villagers? According to economists, they’re simply externalities, so they can starve or find jobs elsewhere. What matters above all else is the market. Somali fisherman are experiencing a similar situation, and instead of dying, they are resorting to piracy.
So then of course, we kill them.
Greece has sick people, and there are the means to help them. Yet if there is no money to be made, they can die. And even if there is money to pay for drugs, if the margins aren’t big enough, they can still go away and die.
The response to the massive failure of austerity has not been met with efforts to do anything differently. Instead, it has been met with a concerted effort to do more austerity. Predictably, it is creating more disaster, yet the law of the free market reigns supreme and the human misery continues unabated.
Cornel West once said:
In a time in which Communist regimes have been rightfully discredited and yet alternatives to neoliberal capitalist societies are unwisely dismissed, I defend the fundamental claim of Marxist theory: there must be countervailing forces that defend people’s needs against the brutality of profit driven capitalism.
Those countervailing forces are on their way to Greece and the rest of Europe. As people’s lives are trampled by the wandering destruction of faceless greed, they will look to other ideologies for stability and purpose. The problem is, given the continent’s history, they probably won’t be good.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.