We all know how democracies are supposed to work: People come together, identify their common problems, then debate and decide solutions. But this elegant give-and-take can break down. What breaks it? Inequality. Democratic deliberations start going haywire whenever wealth starts furiously concentrating at a society’s summit.
In societies growing significantly more unequal, people simply share ever fewer common problems. And some people, thanks to their increasing wealth, have the political power to make their problems the problems their society addresses.
And what happens to the problems of people without grand private fortune? Their problems go ignored. Democracy becomes plutocracy.
In our contemporary United States, we see this plutocratic dynamic play out all the time. Oxfam, the activist global charity, has just offered up a particularly vivid example: the crisis around prescription drugs.
For Americans of modest means, prescription drugs have emerged as a top-tier problem on any number of fronts. Start with cost. The drugs doctors prescribe have become so expensive that millions of Americans can’t afford to buy all the pills their doctors want them to take.
Meanwhile, drug companies have become drug pushers, overselling the benefits and shortchanging the hazards of profitable painkilling medications, in the process creating an opioid epidemic that has devastated millions of American households — and communities.
Big Pharma’s relentless chase after profits drives and distorts medical research agendas, too. On cancer, for instance, drug companies will only conduct costly clinical trials on substances that can be patented and pay off in big earnings. Promising but unpatentable natural substances can’t deliver big profits. So they don’t get tested. They remain on the medical fringes, their curative potential untapped.More ...