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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Short Term

In the documentary, "Let's Make Money" Hermann Scheer, a member of the German Bundestag describes the problems created by privatization of public resources.
Society is deprived of a certain good that the private investor is interested in for reasons of profit.
Universities and the value they have provided their societies are a "certain good". Biopharma is the private investor who is interested in the "certain good" for reasons of profit.

The documentary describes, among many other things, the sale of Viennese trams to a U.S. investor. After the city of Vienna sold the trams they had to pay for the rights to operate the trams. The city of Innsbruck sold its public utilities.
They are not interested in what happens after them. This short term attitude... the lack of a will to take responsibility for the long term... knowing it will be up to others to resolve the problems later... is characteristic of the neo-liberal era. In the neo-liberal era, everything is reduced to making the highest profits immediately. And this at any price. - Herman Scheer
Luke Timmerman wrote about 3 biotech comapanies he sees as not taking the neo-liberal path in this article:
The financial world today is obsessed with short-term gains. Many investors don’t want to bet on some hope for the “next Genentech” in hopes of making returns 20 years from now. They want to make money next quarter, they expect a bigger return, and they want less risk. 
The public Universities gave in to private investor money thanks to Judah Folkman.
In 1974, Judah changed academic medicine and Harvard University by accepting the first large industrial-funded research grant from Monsanto Company to support his cancer research. As a result, for the first time, Harvard permitted its faculty to submit patents covering medical inventions.  Judah’s successful experiment in corporate funding also paved the way for industrial support of academic research laboratories at universities and research institutions across the nation, which is commonplace today.
And we were off to the races. Judah Folkman got paid. What came after was the failure of his promise and a new paradigm that has created problems that Judah did not see as his. College professors and their graduate students spend most of their time thinking about money. Working in the business of science is like that described in the "Let's Make Money" documentary by an economic advisor to the government of The Isle of Jersey:
One of the things I found most peculiar working in the financial services was the culture of the workers themselves. Many of them are very intelligent people indeed. Lawyers, accountants, bankers, highly trained through Universities. Very privileged people. By and large, they hate their jobs. The jobs are boring, repetitive, stupid, but the money is fantastic. They know that the work they do is without worth. They don't create value in any economic sense of that term. What they do is allow capital which is being created in one country to be accumulated in a different country where it will become concentrated in the hands of a very small elite of the worlds population. Maybe less than 3%. 
Has science become this bad? We have very intelligent people who are very privileged. We help our investors and executive staff become wealthy but we are the first to go when an issue threatens the short term profit. Yet our jobs are boring, repetitive and stupid. A long term view that should be held by the young and easily manipulated laboratory workforce is that our older workers are unemployable. That is their fate if they fail to fight for a change. Our leaders are now businessmen. Our scientists are working at the Home Depot.

There is great value in a scientific mind. It makes the world a place where we can wonder, ask questions and find clever ways of getting answers. People with scientific minds help those around them by contributing to the body of knowledge that is passed down in our University systems. As we can now see from biopharma, starting in 1980, very little knowledge is being preserved for future generations. The knowledge is patented. The knowledge is of dubious accuracy. The knowledge is not subject to close scrutiny, as witnessed by The Amgen Study. The profits we seek may very well be the cancer that is changing the good name of science into a failing business model.

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