Surely you’ve read about Turing Pharmaceuticals, a company that recently acquired rights to a 62 year old drug (Daraprim) and then raised its price by roughly 5000%. The CEO of that company, Martin Shkreli, has been aggressively defending the price rise– which will result in a course of treatment increasing in cost from $1,130 to $63,000– on social media and cable tv. In a matter of a few days a new face to hate has come into existence. Given the circumstances– Shkreli has misrepresented the price gouging as an act of beneficent, even “altruistic” foresight in the search for new weapons in the battle against toxoplasmosis– and photos like the one below, it’s easy to see why.
Media conglomerates, presidential candidates, earnest bloggers, and college professors have piled on, repulsed not only by the sheer, naked greed of the price increase, but by the spectacle of Shkreli’s sneering self-regard. “I’m a capitalist,” he recently explained. “There’s no doubt about that.” And yet it is this very statement, uttered not so much as a justification as a proud point of identification that should cause us to pause. In this respect, at least, Shkreli is correct. When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the readers of Gawker and Salon and Raw Story pelt him with obloquy they effectively support the ideology of capitalism. Such criticisms, as heart-felt and morally sound as they may be, miss the mark by confusing a single, odious individual with a much vaster socio-economic totality thereby effectively granting an alibi to some mythical “kinder, gentler” mode of exchange and exploitation. Capitalism– “the investment of money to make more money” as James Fulcher writes– doesn’t have a face.