We are a capitalist society. Capitalism by its very definition is a means for private businesses to control trade and goods for profit. Of course that’s simplifying things a bit but the fundamental practice of capitalism allows us all to chase the “American Dream”. It also allows for the human condition to abuse it like everything else.
Now if your talent, expertise, personality, or beauty can buy you a beach house in San Diego, California, congratulations. Don’t forget to invite me to the party. But the minute chasing a fortune hurts the little guy; you’re a jerk in the public’s eye. And the backlash can give you unwanted attention you can’t handle. I give you the story of Martin Shkreli.
If you haven’t heard, Marty was the 32-year-old CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who owns Daraprim. Daraprim is a drug used to treat toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that has greater affects on people with weakened immune systems like those with AIDS or infants. So in September of 2015 Marty and his company decided to raise the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. That’s not a typo.
Most people with decent morals didn’t like that announcement. Unsurprisingly with characters like this, Shkreli defended the decision with bravado, claiming his company would use the profits toward research and development.
Research and development for better drugs? Cool. But a 5000% price increase? Couldn’t you start with, I don’t know, 50%? Wasn’t there a long-term plan you could have laid out to your investor’s liking? That way prescribers (the little guys) and health care companies can deal with rising costs and you don’t look like a price gouging jackass? Sadly we were just learning of Marty’s swagger.
Fanning the flames of public outcry he took to his Twitter account like every high powered CEO does while responding to “haters” with a middle finger large enough to make Charlie Sheen blush (The one guy who can afford Daraprim). He continued his best Wolf of Wall Street impression to the rage of politicians and decent people alike. Even Donald Trump called him a “spoiled brat”. Alas, DiCaprio was better and Shkreli found coal in his stocking.
While you were shopping for Christmas presents, the FBI was arrested poor Marty. He looked just like a 32-year-old CEO should, wearing jeans and a hoodie we can all get at Target. I guess that’s what you get when you spend $2 million for the rights to a Wu Tang Clan Album.
Was it illegal to do what he did with Daraprim? No. Does it make him an asshole? Well yeah. Someone should have told him Gordon Gekko is a fictional character and “greed is good” until the Fed’s have you in handcuffs. But rest assured conspiracy theorists worried the Government is arresting people for being jerks. There’s more.
The FBI has targeted Marty since 2012 with allegations of fraud and conspiracy. This surrounds his time as CEO of another biotech company called Retrophin who parted ways with him in 2014. He was released on a $5 million bond, or 6,666.66 doses of Daraprim. (Do the math).
Now it’s January and in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Marty claims to have been arrested “because of a social experiment and teasing people over the Internet.” According to him, his public persona was “a bit of an act”.
Social experiment? Sure I guess when you’re a delusional multi-millionaire who made a profit’s driven decision affecting the ill you could call his viral behavior that. Or you could label his social media provocation the kind of trolling you’d expect from a teenager in his parent’s basement (Marty) rather than a corporate CEO. In either case, being a jerk is no reason to go to jail for 20 years. But the last chapters of this tale have yet to be written. I doubt the saga of Capitalism’s use and abuse will ever be complete.
But Martin Shkreli hasn’t been proven guilty of a crime yet. So far the only thing he’s guilty of is being unapologetically pompous. Now if the FBI’s claims hold up and Shkreli did fraudulently mismanage funds between his companies and investors, then he can join the long line of businessmen who thought they were better than the system. The likes of Charles Ponzi, Ivan Boesky, Bernie Madoff, and even Lou Pearlman (yeah the boy band guy) were all eventually found out. But none took advantage of people in need of medication. That category belongs to Marty. Perhaps he’ll have 20 years to think about it.