Thursday, September 21, 2006


Capitalism Kills #3: Case Studies In An Immoral System- Merck and Vioxx, plus the new bankruptcy law
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

The free enterprise system, AKA the free market, AKA capitalism, is an economic system, as we all know, that is dedicated to maximizing profits at any cost. Neither ethics, morality, honor, environmental concerns, nor human life itself will be spared by this system and its quest to put profits before people (and everything else). Here are two more case studies of the system at work. The previous five case studies are archived on our website.

CASE 6. We all see the ads on TV from the big drug companies, telling us how devoted they are to our health and wellbeing. Here is a good example of their devotion from the New York Times of 12-9-05: "Medical Journal Criticizes Merck Over Vioxx Data," by Alex Berenson. It seems Merck was more devoted to profits than to human health. The New England Journal of Medicine is criticizing Merck for the way it faked its results on the safety tests on Vioxx, its arthritis and pain drug. Berenson quotes Dr. G. D. Curfman, an editor at the journal: "They did not disclose all they knew. There were serious negative consequences for the public health as a result of that."

Merck is being sued now on the grounds that Vioxx caused people to have heart attacks and strokes. Could it possibly be that the company’s executives, good honorable American businessmen, could have decided to hide and cover up that information for the sake of big bucks?

In 2000, the journal published the results of the clinical trial of the drug -- the trial done by Merck to show, among other things, that Vioxx was safe. Well, Berenson reports that "the journal said the authors of the study had deleted some data about strokes and other vascular problems suffered by patients...." He also reports that the journal said the authors "also underreported the number of heart attacks suffered by patients taking Vioxx...." In fact, it seems that Merck knew that people taking Vioxx were four times more likely to have a heart attack than those who took an older pain killer such as Aleve! Dr. Curfman said, "the totality of the data didn't look good for Vioxx." But that didn't stop the rush to market the drug, which was not recalled until 2004. Let this be a warning for anyone who thinks the capitalist system has your interests at heart.
Don't trust anything corporations tell you!

CASE 7. This is a great case. It shows how our government teams up with big business groups, in this case the banks, to take advantage of working people and the poor – to keep them as debt slaves for their entire lives – no joke! Lets look at another article from the Times – "Newly Bankrupt Raking In Piles of Credit Offers," by Timothy Egan (12-11-05).

As you know, we now have a new, tougher bankruptcy law – one that banks spent over 100 million dollars lobbying for, so you also know who benefits from the new law – not the American people to be sure.

Right before the new law took effect, there was a surge of bankruptcies as people raced to take advantage of the older law to get out from under crushing credit card debt. Most of these people were not irresponsible spendthrifts. Many were in fact people who had no medical insurance and had to use credit cards to get treatment just to stay alive. The banks want these newly bankrupt people in their clutches again "because it [the new law] makes it harder for them to escape new credit card debt and extends to eight years the time before which they could liquidate their debts through bankruptcy again."

What banks are counting on is that these people will still need money to survive. But this time around they can charge higher interest rates, rake in a lot of late fees, and make people wait eight years instead of the old six to declare bankruptcy gain, while under the new law credit card debts, forgiven under the old, must still be paid.

This, of course, is all done for the benefit of the people: "The people coming out of bankruptcy need an opportunity to get back on their feet." That noble sentiment came from the chief mouthpiece for the American Bankers Association. Egan states that, "consumer groups say that the new law has put millions of Americans at risk of being in a continuous debt loop through their credit cards." In other words, in danger of being permanent debt slaves to the banks! This was done by "our" United States Congress, but it’s obvious it is not "we the people" who run the show in Washington.

The banks will make out like bandits because, consumer groups say, "the new law makes it much easier to make money on people who live near the edge every month on their credit cards." So, that's the system – designed to exploit and make miserable the lives of the working people and the poor, so the fat cats can live it up.

"The banking industry," Egan reports, "worked in Congress for nearly ten years to pass the law, and critics say it gave them everything they wanted to increase profits from people prone to debt."

Finally, note this information from a study called "The Plastic Safety Net" – it reveals, according to Egan, that a full third of American households of low and middle-income families "used credit cards for basic expenses-- rent, groceries and utilities-- in any four of the last 12 months." This doesn't include those who had to use the cards for medicines or hospital and doctor bills. Most of the victims of the banks are also older people (50-to-64).

This Christmas when you watch, if you do, for the umpteenth time Frank Capra's "Its A Wonderful Life," just keep in mind the real bankers are represented by Lionel Barrymore – the James Stewart character is totally make believe.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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