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Dr. Capitalism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

For years, my scientist brother Tom was the nonpolitical Stossel.

I defended free markets on TV, and he studied blood at Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Mom asked me when I'd get a "real job" like his.


Then the crusade against capitalism reached his world.

Medical "journalists" demanded that corporations distance themselves from medical research. They'll bias the results, "put profits before people" and sell dangerous goods.

Tom didn't notice this "conflict of interest crusade" until he joined the scientific advisory board of a biotech company and learned how difficult it is to bring medical innovation to market. Now he's furious about what he calls "pharma-phobia."

He says criticism of medical-industry cooperation "is a mixture of moralistic bullying, opinion unsupported by empirical evidence, speculation, simplistic and distorted interpretations ..."

You get the idea. At dinner, we tell him, "You're probably right, but shut up now."

But he shouldn't shut up. Trying to take money out of medicine will deprive us of the very innovation we want. Drug companies are the ones with the resources to create cures. It's insane to limit their access to medical research.

Tom just wrote a book about this titled "Pharmaphobia: How the Conflict of Interest Myth Undermines American Medical Innovation."

One way that the anti-capitalists want to purify medicine is by urging people not to trust scientists who consult for industry and to ban them from government advisory panels and scientific studies. But it's usually the smartest researchers who are hired by industry. Banning them means banning the most qualified scientists.

While activists denounce industry for "exploiting" sick people, industry keeps helping us live healthier lives.


"Over the nearly 50 years I've been a physician, health care has improved," writes Tom. "Our lifespan has increased by 10 years, we're half as likely to die of a heart attack or stroke, and suffer a lot less from arthritis as we age." If that's what happens when capitalists get involved in medicine, I say: Let's have more of it!

The activists take new treatments for granted but resent paying for them and resent the profit motive that brought them about. So do many patients.

Tom's brother-in-law Patrick was dying of cancer until he was given a new drug that's kept him alive for 15 years. Patrick was grateful but angry that the drug costs so much: $123,000 per year (his insurance company pays the bill).

That cost -- $123,000 -- seems outrageous, especially because activists claim government funds all-important scientific research. But that's a lie. Eighty-seven percent of new drugs are discovered by private industry, only 13 percent come from public-sector research.

Then there's the average 16 years of required government testing before it will allow you to sell anything. Only vilified industry has the patience and self-interest to wade through that process, knowing they may lose money because 9 out of 10 promising new drugs will never be approved.

You start to suspect that the activists aren't really concerned about what's best for patients. Some are purists, argues Tom, who just want profit removed from life. But many have self-serving agendas: Insurers benefit from drug price controls, and a demonized industry is easier prey for prosecutors and tort lawyers.


New rules imposed on universities and hospitals forbid doctors to educate other doctors about new drugs, or learn FDA-approved drug information from company representatives.

Even tiny gifts from companies, like a pen with a corporate logo, are regarded as potentially corrupting. Part of Obamacare called the "Sunshine Law" demands that companies report to the U.S. Department of Health any payment of as little as $10 to a doctor.

This is useless. Few doctors are corrupted by a box of donuts, and no one reads thousands of pages of disclosure forms. Much worse is that it diverts billions of dollars from drug research to bureaucrats working pointlessly in companies' new "compliance" departments.

In a free market, medical practitioners and medical companies earn more money if they make their patients and customers happy and keep them healthy. That's the best incentive. I trust that competition more than I'll ever trust the activists who want to shut it down.

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