The inexorable Law of Unintended Consequences
by Tom Sullivan
Photo by htmvalerio via Flickr / Creative Commons.
The drug company Allergan has found a creative way to skirt the limitations on its patent for an eye medicine called Restasis. Joe Nocera explained last week at Bloomberg View he had heard CEO Brent Saunders speak at a conference speak of how drug prices had gotten out of hand. His company had a "social contract" with its patients, Saunders said, sounding statesmanlike. And now?
Late Friday afternoon, Saunders and Allergan showed their true colors: The company announced that it would transfer the patent rights to one of its most important drugs, the eye medication Restasis, to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe. No pharmaceutical company has ever done anything like that before.But this is what businesses do. As the scorpion said after stinging the frog, "It is my nature."
For the Native American tribe, the deal will generate a nice chunk of change: a $13.75 million upfront fee, and $15 million a year in royalties for “licensing” Restasis to Allergan. In the news release disclosing the deal, the tribe said its entry into the patent business would help make it less dependent on its casino in northern New York.
For Allergan, the deal means that, with the patents in the hands of a sovereign entity -- which is the legal status of any officially recognized Native American tribe -- potential generic competitors trying to overturn Restasis’s patents at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board will be stymied. Once the transfer takes place, the tribe plans to file a motion to dismiss those proceedings on the grounds that the patent office has no jurisdiction over a tribe. Assuming this is a winning argument -- and it will surely be contested -- Allergan’s Restasis monopoly, which reaps in the range of $1.5 billion a year, will continue.
Our ancestors evidently took a good, hard look at the possibility of agriculture before deciding to adopt this new way of life. They were able to think it over for so long because the life they lived was remarkably abundant. Like the early civilization of China in the Yellow River Valley, Mesopotamia was a wetland territory, as its name (“between the rivers”) suggests. In the Neolithic period, Mesopotamia was a delta wetland, where the sea came many miles inland from its current shore.When finally they did, civilization bloomed. And cities and states and writing. What was different about grain as opposed to root vegetables or legumes? They grow underground or ripen at different times. Grains are visible and ripen at the same time, making them easier to quantify and tax. The earliest writing was used for bookkeeping and the earliest tablets were “lists, lists and lists,” says Scott.
This was a generous landscape for humans, offering fish and the animals that preyed on them, fertile soil left behind by regular flooding, migratory birds, and migratory prey travelling near river routes. The first settled communities were established here because the land offered such a diverse web of food sources. If one year a food source failed, another would still be present. The archeology shows, then, that the “Neolithic package” of domestication and agriculture did not lead to settled communities, the ancestors of our modern towns and cities and states. Those communities had been around for thousands of years, living in the bountiful conditions of the wetlands, before humanity committed to intensive agriculture. Reliance on a single, densely planted cereal crop was much riskier, and it’s no wonder people took a few millennia to make the change.
It was the ability to tax and to extract a surplus from the produce of agriculture that, in Scott’s account, led to the birth of the state, and also to the creation of complex societies with hierarchies, division of labor, specialist jobs (soldier, priest, servant, administrator), and an élite presiding over them. Because the new states required huge amounts of manual work to irrigate the cereal crops, they also required forms of forced labor, including slavery; because the easiest way to find slaves was to capture them, the states had a new propensity for waging war. Some of the earliest images in human history, from the first Mesopotamian states, are of slaves being marched along in neck shackles. Add this to the frequent epidemics and the general ill health of early settled communities and it is not hard to see why the latest consensus is that the Neolithic Revolution was a disaster for most of the people who lived through it.The Law of Unintended Consequences is a bitch.
... the corporate model, this legal technology for engaging in what Robert Nozick describes as "capitalist acts between consenting adults," has metastasized into a system where humans serve what they created. The corporation has gone Skynet. And as in the Terminator series, there is no system core to shut down.The "core" is now woven into our daily lives. Corporations touch every aspect of our them, as agriculture did before their invention. How long before anthropologists and political scientists are examining the radical reshaping of civilization that accompanied the Corporate Revolution?