The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 17, Number 9
Drugs for All
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
As the bureaucrats pursue their Draconian war on drugs, the Clinton administration is
conspiring with the pharmaceutical
industry to provide drugs at taxpayer expense. Under the guise of expanding Medicare--already a
massive wealth transfer
from young to old--prescription drugs will be included among the benefits the feds use to further
rope senior citizens into
the government orbit.
Already, the whole prescription business itself is a creation of government and therefore a
racket. In times when information
about medical drugs is inescapably available, we still have to pay a distracted doctor to scrawl
out his permission for us to
use what we know we need anyway.
We then have to go to the pharmacy, where we pay prices outrageously inflated by the lack
of competition made possible by
the government grant of privilege called the patent. In this Rube Goldberg system, a guy in a
white coat with lots of training
pours pills from one bottle to the next. The government pretends that this is a complicated
medical technique average
people couldn't possibly master.
There is no reason for this system to exist--no reason except to keep patients subservient, the
incomes of medical
professionals high, and the profits of the pharmaceutical companies higher still. But don't they all
keep us from killing
ourselves with the wrong medicine? Of course not: we could kill ourselves with over-the-counter
drugs just as easily as
prescription drugs (a distinction as arbitrary as any in our increasingly socialistic medical
To keep people from paying the artificially high prices of medicines, the government is
creating yet another entitlement and
at the same time promising it won't cost the taxpayers much and won't artificially increase the
demand for drugs. After
thirty years of soaring costs in Medicare and Medicaid, there's not a soul alive who takes such
promises seriously. No, what
we have here is the usual combination of graft and political payoffs called public policy.
Of course prices will rise, which is what happens when something is artificially subsidized.
And subsidies always come
with controls. The pharmaceutical industry, like the medical industry, will find itself facing
massive new controls on every
aspect of its marketing as a consequence of getting further on the Medicare/Medicaid gravy train.
Those price controls will
dampen innovation because existing drugs will face a marketplace with more guaranteed
The real cost of the proposal consists of factors that will never be seen. What drugs were not
introduced into the market?
What price reductions were never experienced by consumers? What pharmaceutical companies
never opened their doors
because of the privileged cartel members who currently hold the top positions? These are costs
that never enter into their
calculus because they are not objectifiable.
How did the Republicans respond to Clinton's proposal? With the usual hemhawing around
and fretting about the costs to
the federal budget. But since they long ago conceded the federal government's responsibility to
provide for the health and
medical benefits of young and old, they have no principled reason to oppose expansion, and
indeed they only questioned the
scope of the program, not its enactment.
It may be that the most that can be hoped for right now is that Clinton's proposal dies the
death of partisan politics, with
both sides refusing to cooperate on the details. Once again, gridlock may prove to be the only
hope that liberty has in our
times. If it is not stopped, we can look forward to a population ever more addicted to sickness,
drugs, and statism.
"By weakening or completely destroying the will to be well and able to work," wrote Mises,
"social insurance creates
illness and inability to work; it produces the habit of complaining.... It is an institution which
tends to encourage diseases,
not to say accidents, and to intensify considerably the physical and psychic results of accidents
"As a social institution it makes a people sick bodily and mentally or at least helps to
multiply, lengthen, and intensify
diseases.... We cannot weaken or destroy the will to health without producing illness."
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of
the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Further Reading: Ludwig von Mises, Socialism
(Indianapolis: LibertyClassics,  1981).