I have a feeling this won't be a popular column. Don't ask me why. Just a feeling, I suppose. I want to talk about Martin Shkreli, who also happens to be the subject of this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Chet Wild and Annie Lederman. Specifically, I want to make the case that Martin Shkreli's existence is not the complete and total blight on society that it's been made out to be. I mean, don't get me wrong; he's still mostly a monster, I'm sure. But I think one could argue that we're ultimately better off for having him around. Why? Glad you asked!
5He Made A Problem Everyone Was Ignoring Into Big News
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I've mentioned this before, but just to be clear, everyone knows that what Martin Shkreli did with the price of that AIDS drug is not at all a new or recent phenomenon, right? The percentage of the price increase may not always have been quite as drastic, but pharmaceutical companies have been buying the patents to drugs and jacking the prices up exponentially for a long time now. Not only are the prices dramatically increased when a patent is taken over by a new company, but price increases are also used to offset the losses from decreases in demand that tend to happen when, you know, drugs do their job and make people better. The conditions that allow drug companies to reap windfall profits from insane price increases was one of the driving forces behind the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
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Perhaps you've read about it in emails from your racist relatives.
Historically, Medicare hasn't been allowed to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. Be it $13.50 or $750, if the drug company says that's what they pay, then that's what they pay. Democrats have long wanted to put an end to this, but Obama's promise that profits would stay intact is what ultimately led the pharmaceutical industry to invest millions into ads supporting Obamacare. It's been estimated that the industry stands to make as much as $35 billion in additional profits as a result of the law.
At least, that used to be the case. With his time in office winding down, Obama has executed one of the most victimless backstabbings of all time by going back on his promise to protect drug companies' profit margins. That's why they are now pumping their millions into PACs dedicated to overturning the Affordable Care Act.
However, none of that explains why drug company price gouging is big news right now. That all comes down to one thing: this stupid face.
How is that dog not even sort of making a play for his windpipe?
To be honest, I'd probably hate that guy no matter what he was doing. He could be curing AIDS, and I feel like a lot of people would still kind of want to punch him in the face.
Don't get me wrong; raising the price of Daraprim the way he did was an abhorrent thing to do. But if almost anyone else had done it, the ensuing media outrage wouldn't have been nearly as intense -- if there was any at all. The circumstances that allow people like Martin Shkreli to do this kind of thing need to be addressed. As awful as he is, we should at least acknowledge that his unrelenting douchebaggery played a huge part in giving drug price gouging the attention it deserves in the media.
4He Gave Us The Ideal Ending To The Million-Dollar Wu-Tang Album Story
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Let's shift to a slightly less controversial scandal. Not long before his arrest in December, it was revealed that Shkreli was the mystery shopper who spent $2 million to own the sole copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. The reaction to this news was mixed, but for my part, I couldn't have been happier with it.
To give you some background, on the off chance you're unfamiliar with the story: The Wu-Tang Clan announced in January 2015 that they'd be auctioning off a single pressing of their new album via the auction site Paddle8. Even better, they were expecting at least $1 million for it.
Which is $1 million more than I've paid for any Wu-Tang album this decade.
The buyer would be prohibited from making money off the album's release for 88 years, but could upload it online or otherwise release it for free if they chose.
Several months passed before we learned the outcome of that auction. When it was revealed that the "lucky" buyer was Martin Shkreli, the Wu-Tang Clan had a massive public relations nightmare on their hands. The auction had been carried out well before the drug pricing scandal became news, so they couldn't really be blamed for selling their album to one of Yakub's most hated devils, but they also couldn't take money from Shkreli in good conscience. Unsurprisingly, they donated their proceeds from the auction to charity.
Again, if you ask me, this is the best possible ending to that story. The Wu-Tang Clan hoped to remind people of the "value" of music with their elaborate release scheme. It's certainly a worthwhile lesson, but there are ways to do that without putting the music solely in the hands of an online version of a Bond villain and running the risk that he'll just hold it over the fans' heads forevermore.
Unfortunately for almost everyone involved, it seems like that's exactly what's going to happen.
On the bright side, the album probably isn't that great anyway.
And why wouldn't that be the case? If you were Martin Shkreli, what would be your motivation for letting the general public in on your wildly overpriced Wu-Tang Clan listening party? It's not like it's going to make people like him more. Nothing short of traveling back in time and deciding not to raise the price of Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent is going to make that happen.
We're not hearing that Wu-Tang Clan album anytime soon, even if the terms of the deal grant Bill Murray the right to steal it back. This is a possibility the group should have been prepared for well before deciding to follow through with their stupid plan.