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Thursday, January 12, 2006

What does it mean that more and more of my newspaper reading time goes to the Journal? 

No matter how much I may complain about the government taking 45% of bonus checks, I remain an unabashed big government liberal*. An article in the Journal, which I excerpt below because it's behind a subscription wall, made me think of another use for big government.

Like many big hospitals, the University of Utah Hospital carries a 30-day supply of drugs, in part because it would be too costly or wasteful to stockpile more. Some of its hepatitis vaccine supply has been diverted to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf, leaving it vulnerable should an outbreak occur closer to home. About 77 other drugs are in short supply because of manufacturing and other glitches, such as a drug maker shutting down a factory.

"The supply chain is horribly thin," says Erin Fox, a drug-information specialist at the Salt Lake City hospital.

In the event of a pandemic flu outbreak, that chain is almost certain to break. Thousands of drug-company workers in the U.S. and elsewhere could be sickened, prompting factories to close. Truck routes could be blocked and borders may be closed, particularly perilous at a time when 80% of raw materials for U.S. drugs come from abroad. The likely result: shortages of important medicines -- such as insulin, blood products or the anesthetics used in surgery -- quite apart from any shortages of medicine to treat the flu itself.

The very rules of capitalism that make the U.S. an ultra-efficient marketplace also make it exceptionally vulnerable in a pandemic. Near-empty warehouses are a sign of strong inventory management. Production of drugs takes place offshore because that's cheaper. The federal government doesn't intervene as a guaranteed buyer of flu drugs, as it does with weapons. Investors and tax rules conspire to eliminate redundancy and reserves. Antitrust rules prevent private companies from collaborating to speed development of new drugs.

Most fundamentally, the widely embraced "just-in-time" business practice -- which attempts to cut costs and improve quality by reducing inventory stockpiles and delivering products as needed -- is at odds with the logic of "just in case" that promotes stockpiling drugs, government intervention and overall preparedness.
And it only gets scarier as you read more.

*If I had a t-shirt that said, "Big Government Liberal", I would wear it.

-Daddy Brooklyn  21:14 EST | |

About us:

This weblog is an ongoing, if periodic, effort by several friends to stay in touch, in reading material, and in ideas.

Lucky Luciano is a former Italian Stallion real estate hustler and Benedict Arnold CEO turned shady lawyer-to-be. He lives in Denver.

Ben is a Paramedic and would-be philantropist who lives in Denver. He knows everything about nothing.

Fuzzy Dunlop lives in Manhattan. He is more than capable of standing up to the stresses of a high crime urban environment.

Jess is a teacher. But have YOU given her an apple? No, you haven't. You should be ashamed of yourself. This crazy feminist currently rests her copy of Awakening in Jersey City.

Matt is a pariah, iconoclast, and professor of gambling living in Oakland.

Miguel Sanchez is not Lionel Hutz.

Daddy Brooklyn lives in Brooklyn. He hates Republicans, though he wouldn't mind being ensconced in the landed elite of New York City.

Paul just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette.

Ziggy Stardust has no past.

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