Thomas Sowell

The United States has been one of the few countries resisting political pressures to impose price controls on pharmaceutical drugs, or to water down the patent laws which allow the original discoverer of new drugs to have a monopoly for a fixed number of years, so as to recover the costs of discovery before other companies get to use their formula free of charge.

The United States also produces a wholly disproportionate share of all the new life-saving drugs in the world. But politicians ignore this connection. Other countries have scientists capable of developing new medicines, but the economics and politics of the situation discourage companies in those countries from making the huge investments made by American pharmaceutical companies under American patent law.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has recently begun to cave in to the demagogues at home and abroad. After congressional liberals like Ted Kennedy, Henry Waxman and Charles Schumer began making noises about a need to get the drug Cipro cheaper because of the anthrax scare, the administration threatened to over-ride the patent for the drug unless the manufacturer supplied it at a cheaper rate.

The retail price of Cipro was $5 a pill and the government itself says that someone stricken with anthrax needs to take two pills a day for five days and cheaper antibiotics thereafter. Is $50 too much to pay to save your life? And is it worth jeopardizing a whole system that has made this country the leading creator of life-saving drugs, just to get the demagogues off the Bush administration's back politically?

The administration also caved at a recent international conference in Qatar, where foreign countries gained the right to set aside international patent agreements whenever they choose to decree a public health "emergency." This allows them a free ride on costly American research, at least until they kill the goose that lays the golden egg -- new life-saving medicines in this case.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate