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Ayn Rand’s Philosophic Achievement

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Ayn Rand’s Philosophic AchievementShortly after Ayn Rand’s death, in 1982, I ran this article in my publication The Objectivist Forum. The link is to a PDF scanned from that journal. The one change I made for re-publishing it here is changing, at the bottom of Part I, “(To be concluded in our next issue)” to “(To be continued in our next issue).” I did not know, after the first part was written, that it would become a four-part article.

(For best viewing, use the + or – buttons, in the lower right of the page that comes up, to zoom in or out.)

Ayn Rand’s Philosophic Achievement

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gangsterofboats
7 hours ago
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Being Robbed Less Is Not "Aid"

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From time to time I have expressed my annoyance with Republican politicians who use "tax holidays" and "tax incentives" to buy votes and disguise themselves as advocates of capitalism. That said, such phrases don't hold a candle to one I just ran across from the European Union, which is displeased with the rogue state of Ireland for failing to tax Apple enough:
The European Commission has concluded that Ireland granted undue tax benefits of up to €13bn to Apple.

...

In a statement, the EC said the benefit is "illegal under EU state aid rules, because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. Ireland must now recover the illegal aid." [my bold]
This reminds me of an apt analogy I made recently regarding the U.S. tax code:
Regarding the legal support for (partial) tax avoidance, that is actually one of the most insulting and despicable aspects of our tax code (withholding and "refunds" is another). Such arguments permit almost everyone to pretend to themselves they are getting some kind of deal when, in fact, they are still being robbed. Perhaps Libin might approve of this example: You get held up in an alley and are made to dump [your] wallet into a sack. Then, before you are released, your robber hands you back a twenty and a credit card or two, saying, "I really could use some more money, but feel free to keep this."
The only changes I'd make to this with regard to the egalitarian kleptocrats of the EU would be that, at the end, the thief says something self-congratulatory about how much he helped you out. But then, his boss might show up and take back the rest of the money to be "fair" to everyone else they'd robbed.

Rather than considering, say, even the economic benefits of a lower corporate tax rate (e.g., higher water lifting all boats -- a sentiment that, while not quite capitalist is at least somewhat benevolent), the EU is nattering about inequality. What a great new example we have of egalitarianism not being about helping anyone, but insuring that all are equally miserable.

-- CAV
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gangsterofboats
7 hours ago
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Reverse Voxsplaining: Drugs vs. Chairs

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[Content note: this is pretty much a rehash of things I’ve said before, and that other people have addressed much more eloquently. My only excuse for wasting your time with it again is that SOMEHOW THE MESSAGE STILL HASN’T SUNK IN.]

EpiPens, useful medical devices which reverse potentially fatal allergic reactions, have recently quadrupled in price, putting pressure on allergy sufferers and those who care for them. Vox writes that this “tells us a lot about what’s wrong with American health care” – namely that we don’t regulate it enough:

The story of Mylan’s giant EpiPen price increase is, more fundamentally, a story about America’s unique drug pricing policies. We are the only developed nation that lets drugmakers set their own prices, maximizing profits the same way sellers of chairs, mugs, shoes, or any other manufactured goods would.

Let me ask Vox a question: when was the last time that America’s chair industry hiked the price of chairs 400% and suddenly nobody in the country could afford to sit down? When was the last time that the mug industry decided to charge $300 per cup, and everyone had to drink coffee straight from the pot or face bankruptcy? When was the last time greedy shoe executives forced most Americans to go barefoot? And why do you think that is?

The problem with the pharmaceutical industry isn’t that they’re unregulated just like chairs and mugs. The problem with the pharmaceutical industry is that they’re part of a highly-regulated cronyist system that works completely differently from chairs and mugs. And the reason they’re part of a highly-regulated cronyist system that doesn’t work is because of Vox publishing articles like this.

If a chair company decided to charge $300 for their chairs, somebody else would set up a woodshop, sell their chairs for $250, and make a killing – and so on until chairs cost normal-chair-prices again. When Mylan decided to sell EpiPens for $300, in any normal system somebody would have made their own EpiPens and sold them for less. It wouldn’t have been hard. Its active ingredient, epinephrine, is off-patent, was being synthesized as early as 1906, and costs about ten cents per EpiPen-load.

Why don’t they? They keep trying, and the FDA keeps refusing to approve them for human use. For example, in 2009, a group called Teva Pharmaceuticals announced a plan to sell their own EpiPens in the US. The makers of the original EpiPen sued them, saying that they had patented the idea epinephrine-injecting devices. Teva successfully fended off the challenge and brought its product to the FDA, which rejected it because of “certain major deficiencies”. As far as I know, nobody has ever publicly said what the problem was – we can only hope they at least told Teva.

In 2010, another group, Sandoz, asked for permission to sell a generic EpiPen. Once again, the original manufacturers sued for patent infringement. According to Wikipedia, “as of July 2016 this litigation was ongoing”.

In 2011, Sanoji asked for permission to sell a generic EpiPen called e-cue. This got held up for a while because the FDA didn’t like the name (really!), but eventually was approved under the name Auvi-Q, (which which really if I were a giant government agency that rejected rejecting things for having dumb names, names would be going straight into the wastebasket). But after unconfirmed reports wastebasket. But after some rumors (never confirmed) of incorrect dosage delivery, they recalled all their products off the market.

This year, a company called Adamis decided that in order to get around the patent on devices that inject epinephrine, they would just sell pre-filled epinephrine syringes and let patients inject themselves. The FDA rejected it, noting that the company involved had done several studies but demanding that they do some more.

Also, throughout all of this a bunch of companies are merging and getting bought out by other companies and making secret deals with each other to retract their products and it’s all really complicated.

Of all the EpiPen alternatives that tried to get past the FDA and onto the pharmacy shelf, the only one that made it FDA, only one of them is currently available. This is a system called Adrenaclick.

Of course there’s a catch. With ordinary medications, every other medication, pharmacists are allowed to interpret prescriptions for a brand name as prescriptions for the generic unless doctors ask them not to. For example, if I write a prescription for “Prozac”, a pharmacist knows that I mean anything containing fluoxetine, the chemical ingredient sold under the Prozac brand. They don’t have to buy it directly from Prozac trademark-holder Eli Lilly. It’s like if someone asks for a Kleenex and you give them a regular tissue, or if you suggest putting something in a Tupperware but actually use a plastic container made by someone other than the Tupperware Corporation.

EpiPens are protected from this substitution. If a doctor writes a prescription for “EpiPen”, the pharmacist must give an EpiPen-brand EpiPen, not an Adrenaclick-brand EpiPen. The supposed reason is so that so children who have learned how to use an EpiPen don’t have to relearn how to use an entirely different device (hint: you jam the pointy end into your body).

If you know anything at all about doctors, you know that they have way too much institutional inertia to change from writing one word on a prescription pad to writing a totally different word on a prescription pad, especially if the second word is almost twice as long, and especially especially if it is just to do something silly like save a patient money. I have an attending who, whenever we are dealing with anything other than a life-or-death matter, just dismisses it with “Nobody ever died from X”, and I can totally hear him saying “Nobody ever died from paying extra for an adrenaline injector”. So Adrenaclick continues to languish in obscurity.

Why is the government having so much trouble permitting a usable form of a common medication? There are a lot of different factors, but here’s the most annoying one. I don’t know, but here’s a conspiracy theory.

EpiPen manufacturer Mylan Inc spends about a million dollars on lobbying per year – which is a pretty good deal since their near-monopoly on EpiPens earns them billions. They gave $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation. And their CEO is a senator’s daughter.

Here’s something fun we can do – let’s look at OpenSecrets.org and see what exactly they spent all that lobbying on. The most lobbying activity seems to have occurred on S.214, the “Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act”. The bill would ban pharmaceutical companies from bribing generic companies not to create generic drugs. The reports don’t list whether Mylan was for or against this act, but I’m going to go out on a limb and bet they were in the NO camp.

Did they win? Yup. In fact, various versions of this bill have apparently failed so many times that FDA Law Blog notes that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result”.

So let me try to make this easier to understand.

Imagine that the government creates the Furniture and Desk Association, an a government agency which declares that only IKEA is allowed to sell chairs. IKEA responds by charging $300 per chair. Other companies try to sell stools or sofas, but get bogged down for years in litigation over whether these technically count as “chairs”. When a few of them win their court cases, the FDA shoots them down anyway ask for permission to sell chairs, and the FDA turns them down for vague reasons it refuses to share, or because they haven’t done studies showing that their the chairs will not break, or because the studies that showed their the chairs will not break didn’t include a high enough number of morbidly obese people so we can’t be sure they won’t break. Finally, Target spends tens of millions of dollars on lawyers and gets the okay to compete with IKEA, but people can only get Target chairs if they have a note signed by a professional interior designer saying that their room needs a “comfort-producing “four-legged seating implement” and which absolutely definitely does not mention “chairs” anywhere, because otherwise a child who was used to sitting on IKEA chairs might sit down on a Target chair the wrong way, get confused, fall off, and break her head.

(You’re going to say this is an unfair comparison because drugs are potentially dangerous and chairs aren’t – but 50 people die each year from falling off chairs in Britain alone and as far as I know nobody has ever died from an EpiPen malfunction.)

Imagine Now suppose that this whole system is going on at the same time that IKEA donates millions of dollars lobbying senators the Senators about chair-related issues, and that these same senators Senators vote down a bill preventing IKEA them from paying off other companies to stay out of the chair industry. Also, suppose that a bunch of people are dying each year of exhaustion from having to stand up all the time because chairs are too expensive unless you have really good furniture insurance, which is totally a thing and which everybody is legally required to have.

And now imagine that a news site responds responded with an article saying the government doesn’t regulate chairs enough.

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gangsterofboats
18 hours ago
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6 public comments
wreichard
4 hours ago
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This can be a great blog. But everyone gives himself away from time to time, and this is one of those cases. "Trust me--the markets work."
Earth
duerig
5 hours ago
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Regulations define and give shape to every market. There is no such thing as an unregulated market. Where regulations disappear, markets as we know them also disappear or are replaced by mini-fiefdoms run by people who can enforce their own code of regulation.

So the question isn't whether 'more' or 'less' regulation is needed. The question is what sort of regulation is needed. We live in a complicated world and every regulation has side effects. Regulations put in place to maintain safe standards also create barriers to competition that let rentiers thrive. Changing the standards might put a cap on the rent extracted by incumbents. Explicit limits on that rent might also be effective. But you have to look at the details to make a decision rather than applying some general rule.

The author also seems to think that the chair industry is unregulated. Look at the tags on your upholstery. Companies that make chairs can only use certain materials and have to meet standards for fire-retardant treatments. This safety regulation is just as crucial as the epi-pen safety regulation. But in the case of chairs, we have managed a better system that encourages many companies to make chairs and compete with each other. Some companies sell high priced chairs others sell low priced ones. But everyone can buy one.

So we don't need to 'deregulate' the epi-pen market. We need to change its regulations. And as a model, we can look at the regulations that shape other more competitive markets and work towards a similar set of regulations for epi-pens and similar medical devices. Maybe that means removing some current rules. Maybe it means changing them. Maybe it means adding more rules. But it is certainly not a simple 'regulation is the problem'. Because the problem in any market both the regulations and the lack of regulation simultaneously. The good actors are too constrained and the bad actors are too unconstrained.
stefanetal
4 hours ago
Totally agree, almost wrote something along these lines myself, but didn't, since I'd like to be able to say something more, say about how to get to a well regulated market structure given politics and history (and 'state autonomy', which is a bit of a deus ex machina). I've read a good amount of legal and regulatory history and still don't have a good account of why some places and products are well regulated and others are not. Building 'state capacity' via good civil service careers is an aspect of it, I think, as is the civil service not being tied up in legal red tape and long regulatory lead times. Both of these are currently problems in the US.
stefanetal
4 hours ago
Lots of the literature looks like 'one side got there first and now has a reputation that things are done this way, so that's what people coordinate on'. If that's effective public spirited regulation, that's that, if it's a rent seeking boondogle, that's that too. One issue appears to be that regulated industries/firm have gotten very large and have gotten compliance departments and budgets that can drive long-term regulatory change in a manner that is just more organized and well funded than any other actors in the system, and that regulatory success just makes these countervailing corporate entites bigger. Litigation makes regulation more legalistic and less real world diven, creating more rent seeking opportunities.
dukeofwulf
5 hours ago
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Europe has 8 competitors to the Epipen. Why don't we have them in the US? Follow the money. Then vote Gary Johnson 2016.
ahofer
9 hours ago
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"....And now imagine that a news site responds with an article saying the government doesn’t regulate chairs enough."
Princeton, NJ or NYC
francisga
16 hours ago
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"chairs are too expensive unless you have really good furniture insurance, which is totally a thing and which everybody is legally required to have."
Lafayette, LA, USA
StatsGuru
18 hours ago
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Always too much regulation.

Quote note (#279)

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Dampier in full-flight:

… the fundamental political rights that Americans have come to expect tend not to be respected by either the political elites in Washington and academia or the reinforcements that they’re importing over the borders by the millions. […] The left realizes this. They think it’s great, because they want to crush the skull of the host culture and suck out its brains. This is a rich country with lots of stuff to steal that isn’t nailed down properly. The rules against stealing impede the program. …

The subsequent analysis is close to incontestable.

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gangsterofboats
18 hours ago
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Must-Read: Bradley A. Hansen: Ironic Origins of Libertarianism: "Some liber...

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Must-Read: Bradley A. Hansen: Ironic Origins of Libertarianism:

"Some liberty-loving soul had donated a copy of John Hospers’s Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow (1971) to my local public library... 

"...While I doubt I would find Hospers’s book impressive today, at the time it was a thrilling read. I had never heard the 'standard libertarian arguments' before." (Bryan Caplan)

"When I was about thirteen, I decided I wanted to read all of the good books in the public library…. At the public library I found Ayn Rand; my grandmother also recommended her to me. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal had a big influence on me, as did Atlas Shrugged. Hayek and Rothbard followed shortly thereafter." (Tyler Cowen)

"I had some unusual early influences. In the eighth grade I borrowed an H.L. Mencken book from the city library. I couldn’t understand why everybody didn’t think and write like he did. Also, I became enamored of the Barry Goldwater legend." (Karen De Coster) 

"That experience led me to the public library and a host of books on economics, one of which was a book whose table of contents I could not understand and which had never before even been checked out: Mises’s Human Action." (Robert Formaini) 

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gangsterofboats
20 hours ago
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So? Some libertarians are against the government existing, but they still obey the law.
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Why Portland-Themed Businesses Are Big in Japan

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A large record collection and vintage knickknacks grace the wood-paneled interior of Paddlers Coffee. (All Photos: Amelia Ayrelan Iuvino) 

Tokyo is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with 37 million residents. Portland, Oregon is the 26th largest city in the United States. Population: 600,000. But in Tokyo, I passed more than a few people wearing PDX sweatshirts, and even someone with a Portland Timbers hat on.

Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland’s original weird and whimsical doughnut shop, is opening an outpost in Tokyo. The Japanese men’s lifestyle magazine Popeye (the “Magazine for City Boys”) recently produced an issue devoted to the Pacific Northwest city.

It’s clear: Tokyo hipsters have a big crush on Portland.

“‘Portland’ is a magic word,” says Yasunori Fujikawa, a graphic design student living in Tokyo. “Using the word ‘Portland’ anywhere adds sophistication.”

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A promoter handing out flyers near Tokyo's Shibuya Station wears a Portland Timbers cap and a jacket from Adidas (whose North American headquarters are in Portland).

Much of the effort to bring Portland to life in Tokyo is being led by a handful of small business owners who have a personal connection to the West Coast city known for its quirkiness and creativity. Americans may be sick of those pretentious, self-involved Portlanders, but over in Japan, Japan, Portland's image carries a more profound meaning, and the Portland-style cafes and bars that are cropping up have personal significance to their owners. Many of them studied abroad years ago in Portland or in the state of Oregon, and are now capitalizing on their insider knowledge of a region with quickly rising cache.

PDX Taproom, a beer bar in Shibuya, offers a funhouse version of Portland that seems eerily familiar to Pacific Northwesterners. The walls are covered in Portland paraphernalia, including a drawing of Portland’s tiny transit system, which looks laughably quaint in comparison to Tokyo’s myriad subway lines. All of the beers on tap are from Oregon, and they proudly display a copy of Willamette Week’s newest Beer Guide—which had only just been published when I visited in spring 2016. On the menu is a dish of tater tots with blue cheese and bacon (a very popular snack at Portland Timbers matches, it assures me).

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PDX Taproom, on the second floor of a commercial building in a busy part of Tokyo, advertises craft beer from Portland, Oregon with a backdrop of Japanese high-rises.

There are a number of bars almost exactly like this one in Portland—not the coolest ones, the kind more likely to be geared toward tourists—that play off a crystallized and somewhat stereotypical vision of the city’s identity. The owner of PDX Taproom, Miyuki Hiramatsu, studied abroad in Portland in the early nineties and then worked for Columbia Sportswear Japan (which is headquartered in Portland) as an adult, noting the city’s growing craft beer trend.

“I thought, what if I proposed Portlanders’ lifestyle through craft beer in Japan?” she says. Her customer base is about 70 percent Japanese and 30 percent foreigners.

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Beer from Rogue Ales, brewed in Oregon, is easy to find in Japan if you know where to look.

Daisuke Matsushima, who studied in Oregon in college, owns a Portland-themed coffee shop in Tokyo called Paddlers. Located in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood west of Shibuya, Paddlers features wood paneling, vintage-modern decor, and a large collection of records. It serves only Stumptown Coffee, the pride of Portland.

Matsushima traces the origin of the Portland-in-Japan trend back to 2011, when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a huge tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people in Japan.

“It made people here start questioning how they’re spending their time and what they’re doing with their lives,” he says. “People in Japan are usually really career-oriented, but now some young people think, maybe we should do whatever we want with our lives too, like people in Portland.”

Several other Portland-themed business owners that I talked to echoed similar sentiments — Portland seemed to symbolize a place of freedom in their minds, where everyone was either an artist or an artisan, pursuing only their passions and living only the kind of life they want.

Kohei Hareru, the owner of a small and quirky cafe/bar not far from Paddlers called ME ME ME, wants his business to reflect this aspect of self-determination.

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At ME ME ME, a tiny Tokyo breakfast cafe and bar, visitors revel in vintage Americana decor.

Hareru, who also studied in Portland as a teenager and now visits the city a few times a year, says that because of Japan’s manufacturing history, “we have been expected to conduct ourselves organizationally, which produced negligence of our individuality for a long time.”

As a result, Hareru also believes that Japanese culture has become obsessed with consumerism, preventing people from experiencing real happiness. He’s hopeful that people are realizing “that there might be some potential for what we’ve been looking for in Portlanders’ weird and sustainable lifestyle.”

“ME ME ME stands for, ‘the answer is not anywhere outside of you,’” he says. “I believe everything is all up to you—your curiosity, your interest, your eyes—to find the positive side of life.”

It’s not a very common sentiment in Japan, which has a culture famed for its communally oriented behavior and ways of thinking, but perhaps it reflects a change in Japanese society embodied by the younger generation.

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gangsterofboats
20 hours ago
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