If pharmaceuticals were produced and sold like computers

In my Saturday morning just woke up way too early fog, I could have sworn I heard some "expert" proclaim that vaccines and drugs are produced and sold just like computers. (CNN Headline News between 8:00 and 8:15 AM PST [11:00-11:15 AM EST] if anyone wants to confirm or deny it.)

Anyway, if vaccines and drugs were produced and sold like computers:
- Vaccines and drugs would be available at really low prices, and be even cheaper next week.
- If some business-person guessed wrong about how much vaccine he'd sell and ran out, the place next door would still have plenty.
- Even if noone had brand X vaccine, brand Y would be available and just as good.
- I could choose to consult with my doctor or just go get the drug(s) I want.
- I could buy last week's drugs for even lower prices from e-Bay.
- drugpricewatch.com would list lots of companies and their prices.
- The "open-recipe/free-lab" movement would produce lots of websites with lots of good instructions on how to make your own drugs, including how to setup your labs. Some of the drugs would be of better quality than commercially available variants.

Alternatively, if computers were produced and sold like drugs:
- Commercials would air with "Ask your computer professional if Pentium is right for you"
- Unfortunately, the Electronics and Computers Administration would have just approved the Intel i486 for prescription use, and just approved the Apple ][ for over the counter sale.
- Any reasonable computer would require a recommendation from a properly licensed computer professional who has a PhD in Computer Science and several years experience.
- You will want to check with your insurance company to see if they will cover the costs of a Macintosh or they will only cover a white box 8088.
- You want the insurance to cover it because the Mac costs $25,000 or more.
- Norton Anti-Virus may not be available due to shortages, and the President will make statements about only certain at risk users should get Norton Anti-Virus. McAfee and F-Secure got out of the anti-virus business last year citing financial losses.
- Politicians and MSM would be whining about how computer prices just doubled again this year.
- "This is your brain, this is your brain on Doom 3"
- "Police raided a nerdy teen this morning - among the things found were soldering irons, oscilliscopes, compilers, and large numbers of first person shooter games and vehicle simulators...police estimate a street value of several billion dollars..."

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Haha, that's rather amusing.

Haha, that's rather amusing. However, I feel I should point out that you are leaving out the blue screen of death... Which fits with your analogy, though not in the right way.

Quoth the Guinness Brewers:

Quoth the Guinness Brewers: "Brilliant!" :grin:

[...] ics — Tim @ 1:37 pm

[...] ics — Tim @ 1:37 pm

David Masten posted some brainstorming musings with regard to va [...]

If pharmaceuticals were

If pharmaceuticals were produced and sold like computers
David Masten at Catallarchy asks a great question: In my Saturday morning just woke up way too early fog, I could have sworn I heard some “expert” proclaim that vaccines and drugs are produced and sold just like computers. David...

More: If computers were

More:

If computers were produced and sold like drugs:

- You'd have to co-pay $10 for a mouse
- If you don't have a job, you probably don't have computer insurance
- The shortage of computers would be blamed on the "free market"
- It would be common knowledge that the average person is too dumb to seek advice about computers, weigh the risk and benefits of using computers, or decide for himself whether or not he needs a computer.

The implicit premise of this

The implicit premise of this cute but shallow bit of rhetoric is that there is no difference between computers and drugs other than the latter being regulated. This is not the case, however. In order for the comparison to be valid, the following are just some of the things that would have to be true about computers:

-Usage of computers would be essential in some circumstances--you could die or be permanently disabled if you did not have a computer, and in particular one that worked effectively to address your specific circumstances.

-Computers would be designed to do narrow, specific things--there would be some "antibiotic" computers, some "blood pressure" computers, some "pain relief" computers, etc. An "antibiotic" computer could not perform the functions of a "blood pressure" computer, and so on.

-Return of a defective computer to a store or manufacturer would be impossible once you had made use of it.

-Computer usage would have potentially life-threatening side-effects in some circumstances, and there would even be some people who were allergic to certain types of computers, to the degree that using them would be impossible.

I came up with this list in no more than 10 minutes; if I thought about the issue for a while I could probably triple the length of the list, and probably I could triple it again with a little research.

The fact is that computers and drugs are very different products by nature. The nature of drugs makes it necessary for their manufacture and sale to be effectively regulated by the government. Anyone who has learned some introductory economics understands this.

I've learned some

I've learned some introductory economics and I don't find it at all obvious that drugs have to be regulated based on any specific nature of the product. In fact, there are lot of people who know a little more than just introductory economics who believe the regulation of drugs actually hurts the drug market and its consumers.

Jeff - I don't think a

Jeff - I don't think a pharma that did business like MS would be around for long. My Linux laptop has longer uptimes than many Windows Servers!

Jonathan - Excellent additions. :beatnik:

Mark, Anyone who has learned

Mark,

Anyone who has learned some introductory economics understands this.

Then why didn't you make any economic arguments? All I see is paternalistic arguments, i.e., that drugs can cause harm and computers can't, and people are too stupid to create private means of evaluating the efficacy and safety of drugs. I've heard some decent economic arguments for monopolistic drug review, but you didn't make any.

-Usage of computers would be essential in some circumstances–you could die or be permanently disabled if you did not have a computer, and in particular one that worked effectively to address your specific circumstances.

Computer 'failure' does have disastrous consequences. That's why there's an entire industry that aims to protect people from computers going bad. That's why Symantec has a market cap of nearly $20 billion.

-Computers would be designed to do narrow, specific things–there would be some “antibiotic” computers, some “blood pressure” computers, some “pain relief” computers, etc. An “antibiotic” computer could not perform the functions of a “blood pressure” computer, and so on.

There are lots of specialized computers all around us - in PDAs, desktops, laptops, Playstations, cell phones, GPS systems, TV-top systems, cell phones, etc.

-Return of a defective computer to a store or manufacturer would be impossible once you had made use of it.

So why does that necessitate a monopolistic review process?

-Computer usage would have potentially life-threatening side-effects in some circumstances, and there would even be some people who were allergic to certain types of computers, to the degree that using them would be impossible.

Computer usage does have potentially life-threatening side-effects in some circumstances. If the PACS system at the hospital I work at goes down, patients die. Yet, it's privately created and supported by GE. The FDA is not involved. Again, there is a multi-billion dollar industry for the protection of computers from allergens and life-threatening side-effects.

If you have an economic argument to make, do so. If all you have is paternalism, few people are going to listen.

Mark, electronics (including

Mark, electronics (including computers) are very life threatening. A poorly designed computer could easily cause life threatening disaster that could kill more than just the user. A quick look at the history of electronics in the late 19th and early 20th century would demonstrate that. Of course, somehow the free market came up with a solution. Look on the back of your computer - you'll see a trademark from Underwriters Laboratories, a private and free market organization that has effective and efficient regulation of electronics goods for consumer safety.

Mark, As David Masten has

Mark,

As David Masten has hinted at, there are situations that computers can and will kill you. I recall an article in an embedded systems trade magazine about a malfunctioning system that was used to measure the thickness of steel in a mill. The steel was measured by blasting gamma radiation through it, with a lead shutter controlled by the embedded computer turning the radiation on and off.

The visiting VP, attempting to diagnose the malfunctioning shutter, stuck his *face* under the thing just as the shutter decided to open all by itself. His fate wasn't told by the article, but my guess is that he wasn't any healthier for the experience.

Or consider the fact that modern aircraft (like the F-117) are controlled solely via computers - the stealth fighter isn't aerodynamically stable, it requires sub-millesecond corrections from the flight computers to maintain it's course. Just so we're perfectly clear, the computers figure out which way the A/C is starting to go, sends a *digital transmission* down a wire to the flight controls, the flight controls decode that transmission and then move the proper control surfaces to counteract the A/C's movement.

Imagine what happens if the system fails.

Note that neither of those computers can (or should!) be used to look at the Nekkid Wimmin Page on the 'net. The effects of monkeying with a specialized computer system that you know nothing about can be as serious (read: deadly) as popping random pills from the pharmacy. But y'know what? Folks can buy modded chips for their car engine controllers, *totally unregulated*!

The implicit comparison of

The implicit comparison of the original post, with it's references to Pentiums, 8088's, etc, was between drugs and desktop PC's. Yet to refute some of my points, people respond by invoking cases of specialized processors in cellphones, playstations, etc. That is a moving of the goalposts, and it doesn't refute the arguments I made.

Other attempts to refute my points about the relative hazards of drugs and computers, and of the side-effects issue, point to the consequences of the breakdown of a computer. This is an apples and oranges comparison. The side effects of drugs occur during normal usage--this is not analogous to a computer failing. There is no side effect to normal computer usage comparable to the allergic reactions some people have to penicillin and other antibiotics, not to mention chemo and other cancer therapies.

Jonathan, my economic arguments are implicit in the issues I raised. I assumed, perhaps without warrant, that given the strong economics focus of this blog, that folks here would pick up those impliciations--that they would look at my contrast between the ability to return a defective computer you have purchased, and the inability to return a defective pill you have swallowed, and not need to be explicitly told "this is a difference between a durable good and a nondurable good."

Finally, the safety hazards of electronic devices, including computers, are regulated by the CPSC. A visit to the CPSC website will reveal numerous electronic devices that have been recalled in the past year.

Mark, The point I think you

Mark,

The point I think you are missing is that all of the differences you mentioned are differences in degree, not differences in kind. The extention of human life or alleviation of debilitating health conditions is no more important to economists than any other good people value, given comparable quantity.

Your "durable vs. non-durable goods" claim is your first attempt at an economic argument, but it is not a very convincing one. Computers -- especially personal computers -- don't fit neatly within the category of durable goods. PC prices decline so quickly that a computer purchased even a month ago can lose a large portion of its value, especially if it is high end. Few companies are willing to extend warranties beyond 1-3 years, as replacement parts are ancient by then. People tend to replace their computers about as often as they replace their wardrobes; or at least much more frequently than they replace their cars and their kitchen appliances.

But even ignoring these points, and accepting your claim that computers are durable while pharmaceuticals are not, you have failed to answer the ever so important question: so what? What is it about durable goods that make them require less regulation than durable goods? Simply the fact that you can more easily return them? Are movie tickets heavily regulated? Concert events? Hotel stays? Over-the-counter medication? Toiletries? Nearly any and every service? I could go on and on. These are all non-durable goods which expire quickly, if not immediately after use.

It is difficult to think of any other non-durable good as heavily regulated as drugs, so surely the non-durableness of drugs cannot be the explanatory/justificatory factor.

As Jonathan mentioned, there are some legitimate economic arguments which support the claim that health care is different in kind from other goods. But none of these arguments are the ones you have provided.

[...] 212;

[...] 212; hispanicpundit@hispanicpundit.com @ 12:53 am

David Masten, at Catallarchy, explains it this way, If computers wer [...]

Just in case you guys hadn't

Just in case you guys hadn't noticed from the nature of the arguments, the Mark above ("drugs are uniquely incompatible with freedom of choice") is not me ("justice follows logically from volition and mutual respect").

I once lived in a place where health care was pretty much unregulated, and treatment was equal to (or better than) US standards and cheaper than US co-pays. Since I'm now in the US, I live in breathless anticipation of when I can stop paying $1000/month and spending hours doing pointless administration for no benefit and simply buy medical advice and treatment the same way I buy other professional services.

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