This technology is not simply for modeling and prototyping, either. TV personality Jay Leno uses a 3-D printer to make custom and hard-to-find parts from scratch for his collection of classic cars. Entrepreneurs have been using these printers in a myriad of ways, and the trend is speeding up.
The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
Do you trust your doctor? Most patients assume their doctor is working in their best medical interests whenever he or she orders a diagnostic test or recommends a particular treatment. Customers might wonder whether an unscrupulous auto mechanic is being truthful when he recommends a brake job or a new transmission. But most patients trust […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
Dr. William C. Padgett is a retired optometrist who has been trying to bring an elderly care facility to Beaufort County, North Carolina, for over a decade.“Our senior citizens,” he laments, “are finding that it is difficult and in many cases impossible to find an appropriate long-term care facility locally.” Though he has received several […]
Professor John H. Cochrane of the University of Chicago had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 25, in which he gave a brief description of (among other things) a market in which individuals buy our own health insurance — and not from an Obamacare exchange.According to Professor Cochrane: “…we should transition to […]
A new survey from Harvard University found a large majority of young Americans do not believe the law will save them money, do not believe it will improve their health, and do not intend to sign up for insurance through the new exchanges.
Liberal supporters of the Affordable Care Act specifically, and big government in general, are quick with excuses for all the problems that Obamacare has been experiencing in these early days. We have heard: they did not have enough time, it’s complicated, it’s the insurance companies’ fault, we just need to make a few adjustments, and […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
As the fallout continues over the cancellation notices sent to millions of people covered by health plans in the individual insurance market, it is becoming clear that millions more workers and their families are expected to lose their employer-based coverage as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is implemented.According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 156 […]
A president stands disgraced. Congress is scattering. Bureaucrats are baffled. Pundits are reaching. Industry is scared. Politicians are scrambling to do something, anything, to make it better. One political party is in meltdown and the other loving every minute of it, hoping to ride the calamity to electoral gains.The so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care […]
Any married couple that earns more than 400% of the federal poverty level -- that is $62,040 -- or a family of two earns too much for subsidies under Obamacare. But if that same couple lived together unmarried, they could earn up to $45,960 each -- $91,920 total -- and still be eligible for subsidies through the exchanges in New York state.
The president assures us he is not responsible for the wave of health insurance policy cancellations. The insurance companies are. OK, so where is the other side?
The saying goes that things have to get worse before they get better. But with Obamacare, things just keep getting worse — and then they get worse still. In private, even many critics of the law are at least a bit surprised by how poorly the rollout has gone. The question that many are asking […]
Though the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges has dismayed even the law’s supporters, the problem the ACA is designed to address is real enough: Millions of Americans, even those with insurance, lack access to adequate health care. In a voluntary society, civil-sector groups would step up to provide social services, like health […]
It is such a kick to read the transcripts from the White House’s health care “war room” in the first days of release. What a meltdown, and you get to watch it all in real-time.I’m not trying to be cruel to the kindly despots who have wrecked so much of what worked in the existing […]
Obamacare certainly has made history. It has set the record for the fastest-failing Big Government program in world history. This isn’t only about a website flop; it is about the failure of government to accomplish the aims of Obamacare in general, and in a way that has profoundly touched millions of individual lives.“Train wreck” is […]
A handful of reports last week suggested that the Obama administration had moved to delay the health law’s individual mandate — the penalty the law imposes on those who are uninsured. That’s not quite right: Instead, the administration will align the 2014 penalty date, which had been February 15, with the end of Obamacare’s open […]
A common argument made in favor of government-financed health care is that it is inherently cheaper than a private system. Strangely, however, the people who celebrate the government’s ability to hold down health care spending would be horrified at the same argument applied to other public-sector functions. It’s a seriously inconsistent position held by advocates […]
You didn’t want to be the guy chosen to tell Stalin that the wheat crop failed or the production quotas on trucks and cars were not met. Why?Because despots always blame people, not systems.In the same way, you don’t want to be the guy chosen to tell Obama that his health care websites are a […]
Lately, many have characterized this administration as socialist, or having strong socialist leanings. I differ with this characterization. This is not to say Mr. Obama believes in free markets, by any means. On the contrary, he has done and said much that demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding of and hostility toward the truly free market. But […]
As the health care debate rages on, there is one reality that even the proponents of this hostile takeover of health care by government cannot ignore — and that is money. The government simply does not have the money for a new, expansive, public health care plan.The country is in a deep recession. The last […]
The Supreme Court — a politically appointed gang of black-robed lawyers — is soon going to decide on one of the most contentious issues in medical science: Can human genes be patented, and to what technologies can those patents be extended to cover?
The particular issue concerns one company, Myriad Genetics, and its claim to own the source code of two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2, which, when mutated, are related to breast and ovarian cancer. If anyone else tries to test for this mutation, the company’s lawyers swoop down and stop it. Their patent claim has netted the company a great deal of profit, and the CEO a huge salary (nearly $6 million).
The Myriad patents have understandably annoyed many people who are interested in the spread of human knowledge about how to defeat this and many other horrible diseases. That’s why the American Civil Liberties Union has sued. One lower court sided with liberty, and another court sided with the monopolist. Now the high court is called upon to settle the dispute.
In particular, the court will try to decide whether these two genes are more correctly thought of as part of nature, and therefore not subject to patent, or are different enough in isolation to constitute a real technological discovery. Obviously, the entire scientific community is rooting against this company. Researchers need up-to-date information.
It’s one thing for a company to keep its stuff private. That’s a normal business practice. Think of Google: Its search algorithm is a closely held secret, but most everything else it gives away. Every business would like to keep its secret sauce secret. But the nature of the commercial marketplace is always working in the other direction. Profits attract competitors, who try to outdo the innovator in service and price.
That’s how free enterprise works. The patents take a secret to a different level. The technology behind the patent is public information — in fact, it has to be. What the patents do is actively prevent other companies who have reverse-engineered the code from using their newly acquired information. In other words, patents essentially violate other companies’ rights to innovate. This is the bone of contention.
In other words, the patent holder is making a killing using a government grant of privilege over something that has been with us since the dawn of humankind. Meanwhile, anyone else who wants into this business suffers, as do the people seeking testing for cancer.
The opinion will be rather tricky to write. It will attempt to avoid the largest question that everyone is asking these days, which is whether any patents are economically and morally valid. Instead, it will try to narrow the ruling to cover only the point in dispute.
The larger issue is what can and cannot be patented with the government. It’s a controversy that has been around as long as the patent power itself. During the Industrial Revolution, it was only the high-profile inventions that were subject to the patent. Think of the steamship or, much later, the telephone and the airplane. Now the limit of the patent is entirely up to the clerks at the Patent Office. They can issue one on anything, and are tested only later in court.
That’s why for those who are convinced that patents in general are a gigantic error — a form of government grant of monopoly privilege — this decision will be disappointing either way. There are so many more patents that deserve a look closer, such as those on software, seeds, and industrial machinery. They all end up slowing development. They are dragging us down.
In a paper for the St. Louis Fed, Michele Boldrin and David Levine makes the point as plainly as possible:
“The case against patents can be summarized briefly: There is no empirical evidence that they serve to increase innovation and productivity, unless the latter is identified with the number of patents awarded — which, as evidence shows, has no correlation with measured productivity. This is at the root of the ‘patent puzzle’: In spite of the enormous increase in the number of patents and in the strength of their legal protection, we have neither seen a dramatic acceleration in the rate of technological progress nor a major increase in the levels of R&D expenditure — in addition to the discussion in this paper, see Lerner  and literature therein.”
This should not be a surprise at all. People say that patents incentivize innovation. That’s just wrong. The prospect of profits incentivizes innovation. The patent only extends the period of profitability — if it comes about — beyond which the market would otherwise allow it. The patent does this by using legal restrictions to prevent anyone else from emulating the invention or improving on it.
The case of the human genome is a great case in point. Research is proceeding at a breakneck pace in every area. Most of the code is not subject to patents. Some of the old patents have run out and become irrelevant. It is only in this area of genes “owned” by one company that we have a bottleneck.
Back in 1851, The Economist magazine had it exactly right. The patent “‘inflames cupidity,’ excites fraud, stimulates men to run after schemes that may enable them to levy a tax on the public, begets disputes and quarrels betwixt inventors, provokes endless lawsuits… The principle of the law from which such consequences flow cannot be just.”
There are many absurd aspects to the current patent case in the hands of the Supreme Court. First, the idea that these lawyers should be arguing a case involving difficult details of scientific discovery is preposterous. Second, the notion that the DNA sequence itself should be subject to patent offends the whole idea of self-ownership. Third, the reality that there is no effective limit on what innovations can or cannot be patented is deeply dangerous to the free commercial marketplace.
The whole debate gets to the core of the whole problem of intellectual property itself. Do we only own the stuff we own or do we own the ideas that go into shaping the stuff we own into other things? Example: If you use ingredients to make a cake, do you own the cake or do you own the way to make the cake — and, therefore, do you have the right to forcibly prevent anyone else from using your method?
The broadest sweep of human history is absolutely clear: We own what we own and nothing more. We can do what we want with our stuff, but we can’t prevent others from doing what they want with their stuff. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Myriad Genetics does not own me or you.
On the other hand, a century or more of decisions shows that the Supreme Court evidently thinks it owns you, me, and everyone. If the court decides against Myriad in this case, how to respond? Thank you, guys, for recognizing the existence of an essential postulate of freedom in this one case at least?