This episode of Freakonomics comes with a pre-made rebuttal that I was disturbed to discover that Dubner didn’t cop to at some point during the lengthy interview segments. That perfectly reasonable rebuttal takes this form; Since the pharmaceutical industry sets the value of their products independently, and since the vast majority of their generosity is quantified in the value of in-kind charitable donations of their drugs, their charity is really of their own creation. Large or small, high price or low, they dictate what that value is and they expect us to thank them for their generosity.
As if they couldn’t just alter the price of all the drugs they make to make them affordable in the eyes of every person who needs them, while at the same time not bankrupting the people who have to pay for their drugs out of their own pockets. Heaven forbid they not milk every available dollar out of every unsuspecting customer while at the same time giving away a product at something closer to its actual value. This was a point that Dubner did make during one of the connective segments, but he never actually goes on to fully explain, that the value of in-kind charity is completely within the control of the manufacturer, rendering the reported numbers essentially meaningless.
Don’t get me wrong, here. I don’t want any of the Big Pharma conspiracy fantasists or the naturopathy profiteers they go to to think that I’m somehow on their side in this argument. The fact of the existence of the identifiable label Big Pharma Conspiracy proves that the pharmaceutical industry is unjustly vilified in the general public. It’s just that their insistence that they aren’t profiting to a maximal amount at the expense of the general public rings a little hollow when their prices are so demonstrably fluid in value.