by Kate Harveston
When they came to light, the Panama and Paradise papers revealed a globe-spanning oligarchy that has laid siege to most of our governments and the entire world’s industrial apparatus. This situation has been the case for a very long time, but at last, there was something tangible to make it real. What did the revelation mean?
It meant that by some remarkable sleight of hand, the global elite has yanked the rug out from under democracy’s feet and simultaneously convinced us there was never a rug there to begin with.
The question posed here — what Facebook and the big pharma companies have in common — could feel like a strange one if you didn’t have this type of context. But looked at as part of a centuries-long history of power consolidation, manufactured consent and artificial scarcity, most of the great inventions and institutions that were meant to free us from tyranny have instead become tools for the elite to cement — and perhaps make permanent — their financial control over the world.
The first and most obvious overlap between the social media and pharmaceutical industries is that they are almost wholly immune to oversight — led by individuals who came into their fortunes exclusively because of that fact.
In the heady days of MySpace, the site’s owner, “Tom,” was a benign little icon in the sidebar. “Tom’s got your back,” his smiling headshot seemed to say. Consequently, millions of us grew up thinking social media and internet use in general was equally benign. We allowed ourselves to blindly trust the people who ran it, even as we exercised intense skepticism elsewhere, often about trivial matters. We coasted right into dystopia.
Tom is long gone. And it took a while for Mark Zuckerberg to transform from benign-but-off-putting to equal parts terrifying and infuriating. Nothing changed about Zuck or Facebook or the Facebook business model in the meantime. The only thing that changed is that we got wise to how they make their money. The same is true for every other major tech company that has its hands on the flow of information.
Facebook indiscriminately sells ads to anybody with a political agenda. Reddit “corrects the record” for unpopular politicians. Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, Inc. publishes pro-war propaganda so that Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, Inc. can build data centers all over creation for the CIA with our tacit say-so. Twitter admitted in Senate testimony that it suppressed hashtags related to DNC corruption during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Because we all trusted “corporate culture” instead of taking part in representative government, we no longer have a government. What remains are yes-men bought and paid for by corporations that benefit from prolonging, ignoring or even directly causing human suffering.
Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies are, together, materially and financially capable of ending a huge variety of types of suffering. But they don’t. Because of profit margins. And when they’re not refusing to provide treatment, they provide treatment we don’t actually need.
Big pharma has made itself “too big to fail” (like Facebook and giant financial institutions) by consolidating power over the entire apparatus of human medical science and making itself the, as it were, “only game in town” when it comes to addressing human misery.
Today, it’s the rule rather than the exception for healthcare institutions to prescribe medications and order tests that aren’t actually necessary and, in some cases, to actively defraud government-backed public health programs we do have in place, such as Medicaid and Medicare. Consider the following:
- Giant pharmaceutical companies regularly pay huge fines for overbilling Medicaid and other public health programs. These fines happen so regularly, and behavior has changed so little, that we can only assume these types of punishments are pointless or close to it.
- As much as 30 percent of the medication prescribed to U.S. patients for cough, cold and flu symptoms are unnecessary. Translation: Patients get extorted, and the global crisis of antibiotic-resistant superbugs gets worse, all in one go.
- In 2016, 64,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses, marking a more than 20 percent increase from the previous year. Greater than 40 percent of these deaths were linked with prescription drugs rather than illicit ones.
All the while, regulatory capture at every level of government has made the people and our governments practically powerless to stop any of these issues.
We were told Facebook was going to be a global town hall. Instead, we spend our time there reading fake news planted by foreign and domestic psyop campaigns like Cambridge Analytica and then yelling at each other about what our personalized algorithms served up during our lunch break.
We were told that by relying on corporations — who do everything better than government, trust us! — with our health and well-being and “trusting the market” to correct itself, we would ensure that insurance and medications would become more affordable. Instead, we’ve got literally three or four multi-billion-dollar, multi-continental corporations turning a profit by edging government out of science spending and capturing the regulatory bodies that are supposed to keep them in check.
Whether you vote Democrat or Republican, you have almost certainly given your support — are likely still giving it — to individuals who serve Big Pharma first and The People as a distant second. The only reason America does not have a universal healthcare system is that the people we keep putting in power have been hired by pharma and insurance companies to manufacture reasons that it’s not in our best interests to pursue such a system. We keep sending paid actors to D.C. — sometimes even literally.
We’re ignorant, so we empower people who endeavor to make us even more ignorant. We too often allow ourselves to become slaves to stupidity and to want, in almost equal measures. And because the internet is not that global town hall we all were expecting, and because many of us are too sick or too worried about selling our homes or kidneys so that we can afford cancer medications, attempts to grind this whole thing to a halt and install a real representative government again looks like a taller and taller order.