We're being bombarded with predictions about how great America is going to be thanks to the demolition of government regulations that "hamstring businesses" from fueling the economy.
It's all part of Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" flim flam. Huge tax cuts, no regulations. What could be better?
If we could see behind the tweets, the insults, the bombast, we'd be astonished. What's going on will cost Americans much more than they gain from the measly cuts in withholding taxes expected in February — the middle class's share of the $1.5 trillion addition to the national debt that will pad corporate America's bottom line for years to come and most certainly result in cries to cut back Social Security and Medicare.
Coal companies can once again dump effluent from their mines, some of it toxic, into rivers that feed municipal water systems in some parts of the country. Restrictions on big banks to prevent another meltdown like what occurred in 2008 have been relaxed. The cutback of regulations that protect pensions and monitor health insurance coverage will wind up costing the working class down the road.
But protecting the average American consumer or leveling the playing field between the rich and the poor isn't the objective of this administration. It's all about profits, Wall Street and its investors. And if some of their largesse should trickle down to the working guy, that's good, but since that normally doesn't happen, don't hold your breath.
One would think that by now politicians of all stripes would know that lax regulations only lead to mischief by the rich and powerful. When they know no one is looking, so many just can't help themselves from using their sticky fingers.
It's been a corporate tradition since the 1800s — from the robber barons gouging farmers and consumers, to the Wall Street hucksters who helped cause the Great Depression, to the savings and loan execs who set up phony land purchases in the 1980s, to the bankers in 2007-08 who caused the biggest housing crisis in American history and cost tens of thousands of working-class folks their homes.
And each time, guess who wound up bailing the country out? Not those unregulated shysters, but the working people who had no recourse but to pay up.
There's a real live example of this unregulated corporate greed that's causing problems for millions of Americans right now. It involves that shameless industry we have come to know as Big Pharma.
Consumer groups are starting to take a look at the startling and inexplicable increases in drug prices that have been common during the past five years. Those increases weren't as noticeable when the villainous Martin Shkreli captured national headlines by acquiring and then overnight raising the price of a pill called Daraprim, used to fight infections from AIDS, from $13.50 a pill to $750. That and the unconscionable hike in the price of EpiPens at about the same time deflected attention from the rest of the pharmaceutical industry.
But, as a New York Times story pointed out a few weeks ago, the same thing has been going on with other drugs and medicines. It's just that the firms are too smart to hike prices by triple digits overnight, opting instead to raise them quietly over five years.
So now the drug Humira, produced by Abbott Labs spinoff AbbVie and the best-selling prescription drug in the world, used to battle rheumatoid arthritis, colitis and psoriasis (you've undoubtedly seen Humira's ubiquitous TV ads of happy senior citizens able to play with grandkids and pets again), has gone from costing about $19,000 a year to more than $38,000 in the past five years.
That's just one example. Big Pharma has been remarkably successful in holding off any government intervention. It most famously prevailed during the George W. Bush era in forbidding the government from negotiating drug prices for Medicare Part D, a move that has cost Medicare tens of millions in the 12 years since. The industry is currently spending big, lobbying against any attempts to impose price controls at either the federal or state levels.
Meanwhile, insurance rates to cover medications are soaring and in cases where individuals don't have insurance, they've been forced to go without the medicine.
But, we're told, that's just the free market at work. Aren't we lucky?
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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