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Jason Holliston
Monday, February 09, 2004  
The Vatican and Basic Economics

Just remember: the Church as a whole, in many ways, lives in a completely different world than the political leadership in the Vatican. It's a strange thing, sometimes, how the Catholic Church has these different identities, and this is a perfect example of what I'm talking about:

The Vatican condemned what it called the "genocidal action" of pharmaceutical companies making massive profits from anti-AIDS drugs which remain unaffordable to millions dying from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

Well, sure, on the surface that makes sense, right? In the perfect Christian world, the pharmaceutical companies in the West would make all drugs free to anyone that needed them, including ones to treat AIDS. And while we're at it, all children would have lollipops that wouldn't give them cavities, all war would cease to be, and we could all dance together happily ever after. Now, back to the real world.

I wonder if these people have any idea of how basic capitalism works. These drugs are wonderful, but they almost certainly wouldn't exist if it weren't for the profit motive. Most drugs that are created by the so-called cartel don't even make money, which means they have to make up for it in their more successful drugs. The companies then have more money, so they can hire more researchers, give them better, more expensive equipment, so they can go on and cure disease after disease over time. Really, it's a pretty incredible system we have going, and it would be beyond foolhardy to change it in any drastic way.

Mind you, I do get their point, even if using the word "genocide" is incredibly unfair and incorrect (see, the Nazis committed genocide, not drug companies -- use a dictionary, it's easy). Their point is, whether they fully realize it or not, is that there needs to be a balance between the stockholder return and helping your fellow man. I understand that, and agree with it. But how do we go about it? Should the world governments force the companies to give their drugs away for free (or close to it)? Should the UN use their cash from Ted Turner to buy the drugs from the companies to give to the needy in Africa? Should we declare drug patents null and void for certain impoverished countries? How do you help the AIDS infected in the world, but not destroy the profit motive that has saved so many millions of lives over the years?

I don't have the answers, but I do know that the Vatican's shallow, ill-informed statement today doesn't help matters in the slightest. Pointing fingers and making blanket accusations like this hardly ever does. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan, a fellow Catholic, for pointing this story out.

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