Pathfinders: Desperate Deal in Davos

Not many people can be unaware that there is an antibiotic crisis looming, caused by big pharma moving out of antibiotic research into more profitable fields of enquiry, like hair restoring or erectile dysfunction.  Ask most people why this is happening and they will probably tell you it’s because drug companies are run by greedy psychopathic bastards who couldn’t care less about public health.

Back in October 2012 this column pointed to the fact that, for a number of very good reasons, drug companies simply couldn’t make any money out of antibiotic research and that this amounted to the human race being failed by its own market system.

Confirmation of this has been provided by pharmaceutical companies themselves. At the recent Economic Forum in Davos, 85 drug companies signed a joint declaration promising to invest in antibiotic research if governments would agree to develop ‘transformational commercial models’ (BBC Online, 21 January).

The document, signed by Pfizer, Merck, Glaxo-Smith-Kline and Johnson & Johnson among others, stated that the current economic development model had ‘largely failed’ and that the ‘formidable’ (i.e. expensive) challenges of antibiotic research were the reason most companies had pulled out of the field.

What they mean is, they’re not charities and they’re not going to run at a loss, and if governments won’t help meet the costs, new antibiotics aren’t going to be made, even if we die of bubonic plague as a result.

This is as direct from the horse’s mouth as it gets. Now even capitalist companies are frustrated at the operations of the market system. Will governments work out a deal with the drug companies? Maybe.

What speaks volumes is that they have to have this discussion at all. If capitalism really worked the way its promoters and propagandists like to claim, we wouldn’t need all these special fixes and deals and arrangements and restructurings and ‘transformational commercial models’. It would just work. Trains would run. Houses would get built. People would get fed. Antibiotics would get made.

The fact that it doesn’t work is attested by, among other things, these desperate Davos conferences. Instead of an economic powerhouse, capitalism looks more like a patient under 24 hour supervision in an intensive care unit, kept alive only by the greatest of collective will and effort.

This isn’t the first time capitalism’s economic logic has failed the entire human race. In 2006 the Stern Review described climate change as the ‘greatest market failure the world has seen’. Well, so far, but a sudden outbreak of death by gonorrhoea, laryngitis, TB or tetanus from a minor cut might very well change people’s minds about that.

One wonders what it will take to make people realise that abolishing capitalism isn’t just one of several viable options, it’s already an urgent survival imperative.

Either capitalism goes, or homo sapiens might. This planet isn’t big enough for the both of us.


Public Eye Disorders

‘Rock stars’, says Homer Simpson with reverential awe, ‘is there anything they don’t know?’

It’s fair to say that some rock stars can let their sense of self-importance run away with them. To some Hollywood film stars too, hypoxic inside their own ego-bubbles, the concrete world outside may look like a miasma of hallucinations.

Take the bizarre recent case of actor Sean Penn who, having secretly met with the fugitive Mexican drug baron El Chapo, then stated in a straight-faced interview that the Mexican government was trying to get him assassinated by giving him the credit for El Chapo’s recapture.

To any Mexican drug cartel bosses who might be reading this, please don’t bump off Sean Penn in a fit of vengeful pique, because his films are mostly quite good and, besides, what the hell? He’s an actor, someone who pretends for a living. Even during his interview, he looked like someone studying the part of someone trying to be a political ‘player’. In reality he must have realised he was hopelessly out of his depth. ‘Are you afraid?’ asked the interviewer. ‘No’, says Penn, wearing that resolute, well-studied hard-man look. He was probably bricking it, as any normal person would, but you’d never know it because, of course, he’s an actor.

When actors think they’re undercover agents or international ambassadors or intellectual giants or political supermen, it’s a sign that being too addicted to your own story can make you lose the plot. But you can understand why they get deluded, when the public is so obsessed with them.

Several studies have suggested that celebrity worship is associated with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, drugs, alcohol or eating disorders (see for instance ‘The Psychology of Celebrity Worship’ at Are there many people in capitalism with one or more of those problems, would you say? Hmm. How about nearly everybody?

So that would explain the celebrity worship. And how do the rock and movie celebs themselves deal with being treated like gods? Clearly, in some cases, it goes completely to their heads. But not in all cases. One interesting suggestion is that the less monomaniacal among them suffer a form of ‘celeb guilt’. ‘They know in the deep recesses of their minds that they are not deserving of the accolades and privileged lives that they lead’  says Gad Saad in the blog Homo Consumericus, so they try to compensate by showing the world that ‘they are much more than a mere celebrity’ ( ). In other words, ‘doing good works’ or, as the Victorians used to call it, ‘noblesse oblige’.

Believe it or not, people sometimes ask us why we don’t try harder to get rock stars or movie celebs into the socialist movement. Their star-power, and their money, would get us instant attention, surely? Saad cites a study by Young and Pinsky that supports the argument that celebs mainly pursue fame for fame’s sake i.e. that they are self-selecting narcissists rather than high-minded artists. So maybe not the sort of people who would easily understand the concept of democratic equality. Besides, as one well-known UK celeb recently did, they might be on fire for revolution on Monday, then tell everyone to vote Labour on Wednesday, then change their mind again on Thursday. Friends like that we don’t need!


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