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Government-granted patent monopolies allow US drug companies to charge prices 30- or 40-fold above free market prices, and sometimes more than 100-fold. The new Congress is forging ahead on various forms of legislation to lower prices, but states and private philanthropies can quickly apply several mechanisms to force prices closer to free market levels.
These mechanisms are explained in The Future of the Pharmaceutical Industry: Beyond Government-Granted Monopolies, published today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). The report's author, economist Dean Baker, sketches out alternatives to fund development of new drugs so they can be sold immediately at generic prices, and ways to purchase drugs from foreign countries.
"Patent monopolies on prescription drugs lead to economic distortions and provide incentives for corruption," said Baker. "US drug prices tower above free market prices, but that opens up enormous opportunities for small-scale changes to the system."
New drugs could be developed outside of the patent system and then sold at generic prices. This could be funded by either state governments, which already fund a substantial amount of research through their university systems, or by private philanthropy.
Since patent-protected drugs in the US can typically be purchased at far lower prices in other counties, either send patients abroad to purchase cheaper drugs or bring cheaper drugs into the US.
The report explains both of these methods in detail.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.(202) 293-5380
A new manifesto calls for building "a sustainable social pact for the 21st century" in which "our rights are guaranteed, not based on our ability to pay, or on whether a system produces profit, but on whether it enables all of us to live well together in peace and equality."
An international coalition made up of more than 200 trade unions and progressive advocacy groups on Thursday published the Santiago Declaration, a manifesto for "a complete overhaul of our global economic system."
The undeniably anti-neoliberal document proclaiming that "our future is public" is the product of a meeting held in Chile—the "laboratory of neoliberalism" where Milton Friedman and his University of Chicago acolytes' upwardly redistributive economic model was first imposed at gunpoint by Gen. Augusto Pinochet's military junta.
From November 29 to December 2, more than 1,000 organizers from over 100 countries gathered in Santiago and virtually to germinate a left-wing movement against "the dominant paradigm of growth, privatization, and commodification."
"Who owns our resources and our services is fundamental. A public future means ensuring that everything essential to dignified lives is out of private control."
"We are at a critical juncture," the manifesto begins. "At a time when the world faces a series of crises, from the environmental emergency to hunger and deepening inequalities, increasing armed conflicts, pandemics, rising extremism, and escalating inflation, a collective response is growing."
"Hundreds of organizations across socioeconomic justice and public services sectors—from education and health services, to care, energy, food, housing, water, transportation, and social protection—are coming together to address the harmful effects of commercializing public services, to reclaim democratic public control, and to reimagine a truly equal and human rights-oriented economy that works for people and the planet," reads the document. "We demand universal access to quality, gender-transformative, and equitable public services as the foundation of a fair and just society."
The Santiago Declaration continues:
The commercialization and privatization of public services and the commodification of all aspects of life have driven growing inequalities and entrenched power disparities, giving prominence to profit and corruption over people's rights and ecological and social well-being. It adversely affects workers, service users, and communities, with the costs and damages falling disproportionately on those who have historically been exploited.
The devaluation of public service workers' social status, the worsening of their working conditions, and attacks against their unions are some of the most worrying regressions of our times and a threat to our collective spaces. This is deeply linked with the patriarchal organization of society, where women as workers and carers are undervalued and absorb social and economic shocks. They are the first to suffer from public sector cuts, losing access to services and opportunities for decent work, and facing a rising burden of unpaid care work.
Austerity cuts in public sector budgets and wage bills are driven by an ideological mindset entrenched in the International Monetary Fund and many ministries of finance that serve the interests of corporations over people, perpetuating dependencies and unsustainable debts. Unfair tax rules, nationally and internationally, enable vast inequalities in the accumulation and concentration of income, wealth, and power within and between countries. The financialization of a wide range of public actions and decisions hands over power to shareholders and undermines democracy.
Against the heavily privatized status quo, "we commit to continue building an intersectional movement for a future that is public," the document says. "One where our rights are guaranteed, not based on our ability to pay, or on whether a system produces profit, but on whether it enables all of us to live well together in peace and equality: our buen vivir."
According to Global Justice Now, the Transnational Institute, and other signatories, the creation of an egalitarian and sustainable society hinges on ensuring universal access to life-sustaining public goods delivered by highly valued workers.
"We need to take back control of decision-making processes and institutions from the current forms of corporate capture to be able to decide for what, for whom, and how we provide."
"Who owns our resources and our services is fundamental," the manifesto argues. "A public future means ensuring that everything essential to dignified lives is out of private control, and under decolonial forms of collective, transparent, and democratic control."
\u201cThe Santiago Declaration calls us to build a public future - where quality education, health & other #PublicServices are guaranteed regardless of ability to pay & w/o commercial control.\n@Oxfam is proud to have supported this effort! https://t.co/OvqARJOy4E\n\n#OurFutureIsPublic\u201d— Oxfam International (@Oxfam International) 1674739224
As the Santiago Declaration explains:
A future that is public also means creating the conditions for enabling alternative production systems, including the prioritization of agroecology as an essential component of food sovereignty. To that end, we need to take back control of decision-making processes and institutions from the current forms of corporate capture to be able to decide for what, for whom, and how we provide, manage, and collectively own resources and public services.
The public future will not be possible without taking bold collective national action for ambitious, gender-transformative, and progressive fiscal and economic reforms, to massively expand financing of universal public services. These reforms must be complemented by major shifts in the international public finance architecture, including transformations in tax, debt, and trade governance.
Democratizing economic governance towards truly multilateral processes is critical to overhaul the power of dominant neoliberal organizations and reorient national and international financial institutions away from the racial, patriarchal, and colonial patterns of capitalism and towards socioeconomic justice, ecological sustainability, human rights, and public services. It is equally essential to enforce the climate and ecological debt of the Global North, to carry out an expedited reduction of energy and material resource use by wealthy economies, to hold big polluters liable for their generations-long infractions, to accelerate the phasing-out of fossil fuels, and to prioritize finance system change.
The call to build "a sustainable social pact for the 21st century," the coalition observes, "follows years of growing mobilization around the world."
During Friday's opening session, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis called for the establishment of a movement capable of dismantling "the existing, exploitative, catastrophically extractive imperialist international economic order so as to build a new one in its place... in which people and planet can breathe, live, and prosper together."
Climate groups said the legislation "advances a public land giveaway that could lock in at least a century of oil drilling."
House Republicans and a single Democrat—Rep. Jared Golden of Maine—passed legislation Friday that would require the federal government to lease a certain percentage of public lands and waters for fossil fuel extraction for every non-emergency drawdown of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a trade-off that climate advocates slammed as a huge gift to Big Oil.
"Fossil fuel companies are already swimming in record profits, but House Republicans are using one of their first legislative opportunities to auction off our public lands for more drilling," Martin Hayden, Earthjustice vice president of policy and legislation, said of the Strategic Production Response Act (H.R. 21), a bill led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).
Rodgers, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was the top recipient of oil and gas PAC money in the House Republican caucus during the last election cycle.
"Ramping down fossil fuel extraction and transitioning to clean energy are our best opportunity to protect ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change, insulate families from volatile energy prices, and ensure that we reach our climate goals," Hayden added. "At a time when we're seeing the impacts of climate change every day, this bill would lock in decades of fossil fuel drilling that we simply cannot afford."
Republicans have accused Biden of abusing his authority to tap the nation's strategic reserve, a resource he drew on in a significant way last year in an effort to tamp down soaring gas prices by quickly increasing supply.
The White House has countered that it was operating well within its power to respond to major supply disruptions and warned the GOP bill would result in "more oil supply shortages in times of crisis and higher gasoline prices for Americans."
"Today, the SPR remains the largest strategic petroleum reserve in the world. And with our plans to refill it at... lower prices than what we sold at, the use of the SPR not only saved Americans money, but these releases will end up delivering a return for taxpayers," U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said during a
press briefing earlier this week. "So I'll be very clear: If Congress were to pass H.R. 21, the president would veto it."
"This bill advances a public land giveaway that could lock in at least a century of oil drilling in response to an SPR drawdown that is truly a drop in the bucket."
Explaining his lonely yes vote on the House GOP's legislation, Golden said in a statement that "it is in the best interest of hard-working Americans, who are facing rising prices at the pump, to require a comprehensive plan from any administration in power to replace our stockpile as they dip into it."
But climate groups warn the specific plan required under the bill—which passed hours after Chevron reported record-shattering annual profits for 2022—would approve a massive expansion of fossil fuel drilling at a time when climate scientists say such extraction must be urgently phased out.
"Enactment of this bill would have dire implications for federal public lands and waters," a coalition of nearly 40 environmental groups wrote in a letter to members of Congress earlier this week. "As written, the bill permits the leasing plan to include as much as 10% of the federal land and water estate—an unconscionable amount—when SPR drawdowns exceed 10% of reserves."
"The federal government presides over roughly 640 million acres onshore and over 2.5 billion acres in the Outer Continental shelf. Ten percent of that is 314 million acres—almost twice the size of Texas and six times the combined size of all U.S. national parks," the letter continued. "In other words, this bill advances a public land giveaway that could lock in at least a century of oil drilling in response to an SPR drawdown that is truly a drop in the bucket."
After the groups sent their letter, the House GOP approved an amendment offered by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) that would authorize a leasing plan that could include up to 15% of federal lands and waters.
House Republicans rejected a number of amendments offered by Democrats, including one from Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that would have made national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands off-limits for drilling.
"Under this bill, if the president needed to act again to keep prices low, he'd first have to pay off Big Oil by opening up our public lands," Grijalva said in a floor speech on Thursday. "This bill does not protect the American people, and it certainly does not protect our climate or environment."
"Climate scientists are citizens and humans too. As citizens, we have our own views of the world and we engage in the public debate in the ways we see fit. As humans, we have the inalienable right to express our opinions in a peaceful manner."
More than 1,500 scientists on Thursday released a letter declaring that they are "appalled by the recent retaliation against colleagues who dared to exercise their civil and human rights" with a peaceful protest at a December conference in Chicago.
Published by news outlets around the world in English, French, and Portuguese, the letter comes after Rose Abramoff and Peter Kalmus unfurled a banner that read "Out of the lab & into the streets" just before an art and science plenary talk at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
"As scientists, we make detailed observations and carefully design experiments and models to understand the causes, processes, and implications of climate change" the letter states. "We stick to facts and do our best to inform policymakers and fellow citizens, and train students in rigorous scientific methods."
"Importantly, climate scientists are citizens and humans too," the letter adds. "As citizens, we have our own views of the world and we engage in the public debate in the ways we see fit. As humans, we have the inalienable right to express our opinions in a peaceful manner."
Citing scientific conclusions about the causes of the climate emergency and the urgent need to address them, the letter stresses that "more than ever, we need to engage actively as citizens-who-are-scientists in working for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and the swift transition to a low-carbon future."
\u201cIt has to be said. People are drowning in their basement apartments. People are burning in megafires. People are dying in extreme humid heat. The projections for coming years are horrifying. We're heading into a nightmare.\n\nThe AGU took our badges and kicked us out of the meeting\u201d— Peter Kalmus (@Peter Kalmus) 1671163871
The AGU—which has over 60,000 members and 23 peer-reviewed journals— describes the annual conference as "the most influential event in the world dedicated to the advancement of Earth and space sciences." The organization launched a probe into the protest.
While Kalmus still works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, fired Abramoff over the demonstration, which she wrote about in a New York Times opinion piece earlier this month.
Abramoff and Kalmus—who have both been arrested for previous climate-related civil disobedience—disrupted the AGU event for less than 30 seconds. Someone swiftly ripped the banner from the scientists' hands and AGU staff escorted them from the stage. Kalmus
tweeted that "the AGU took our badges and kicked us out of the meeting."
HEATEDreported Friday that the day before the protest, during a grief circle at the conference that was asked to disperse to clear a hallway, "Abramoff said she gave her phone number to one of the AGU officials. HEATED independently identified this official as the senior vice president of meetings, Lauren Parr."
The report added that "after being expelled from the conference, Abramoff said she received a phone call from Parr (Abramoff did not name Parr in the conversation with HEATED), in which Parr threatened arrest if the two returned; said their research would be removed from the conference; and that AGU would contact their work institutions."
Parr declined to comment while an AGU spokesperson declined to confirm those details and "also attempted to prevent HEATED from naming Parr, claiming she had been receiving significant harassment and death threats," according to the outlet.
\u201c"This wasn\u2019t the first-ever protest at AGU, which has welcomed climate action in the past. But it was the 1st time a scientist has been fired as a result of participating in a protest at the conference. We decided to dig into this story..."\n@ariellesamuel \nhttps://t.co/8rlwzpibMB\u201d— Chris Hendel (@Chris Hendel) 1674840055
The new letter—signed by members of the Earth system science community from dozens of countries, including several authors of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports—charges that "the response with which they were met was by far disproportionate," calling out both "the AGU's actions against them and the recent retaliation that followed."
The letter continues:
We argue that the cost of silence in the face of such unfair and disproportionate treatment, for the scientific community and the planet, would be too high. The heavy-handed and unjust responses to a short banner unfurling not only threatens the careers of two scientists, it also discourages researchers—and especially early-career scientists—from engaging with their colleagues and society and to speak out about the urgent need for climate action. We are deeply concerned by a decision that tells scientists that they risk their careers if they dare speak out or engage in advocacy that is not formally approved. Employers should not punish scientific researchers for participating in nonviolent climate action. Academia and membership organizations like AGU should be safe spaces for freedom of expression.
We stand by our fellow climate scientists who express frustration with the lack of meaningful climate action within the scientific community and the public, who bring attention to the urgency of the moment in a nonviolent manner. We stand by Rose and Peter.
Scientists and others from across the globe have publicly shared similar sentiments since mid-December.
Erika Spanger-Siegfried, director of strategic climate analytics in the Union of Concerned Scientists' Climate and Energy program, warned last week that "in the absence of a clear endorsement of the objective (not the means) of Abramoff and Kalmus' actions, AGU's response, coupled with Abramoff's firing, may be seen by the scientific community as a strong, disapproving, and chilling signal to scientists to step back from climate activism—just when the world needs them to show up in new, courageous ways."
An open letter addressed directly to the AGU—so far signed by over 2,000 people—says that "we as scientists cannot and must not tolerate this censorship and chilling lack of support from our scientific society and therefore urge AGU to: i) reinstate the scientific contributions of Rose Abramoff and Peter Kalmus to the program; ii) officially rescind any communications AGU may have had regarding this incident with Rose Abramoff and Peter Kalmus' former or home institutions until after the AGU professional misconduct investigation has concluded; and iii) immediately close the professional misconduct investigation."
In response to AGU CEO Randy Fiser's January 11 statement about the demonstration and subsequent investigation, Aaron Thierry tweeted that such protest "is both necessary and justified," and pointed to an August paper he published in the journal Nature Climate Change with four other climate scientists and a political scientist who focuses on civil disobedience and social movements.
According to Thierry, rather than sanctioning and investigating Abramoff and Kalmus, the AGU "should be backing them in their efforts!"
This post has been updated with HEATED's additions clarifying that the news outlet independently identified Lauren Parr and Rose Abramoff did not name the AGU official.