Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Moral Inversion At Work

The Greek welfare state collapse has cast a spotlight on the fundamental moral issue of the age. In a piece entitled Beware of Greeks demanding gifts, Voices for Reason contributor Tom Bowden comes to the defense of pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk.

The Greek government, reeling from crushing, self-imposed financial pressures, unilaterally slashed the prices it pays for the company's diabetes drug that 50,000 Greeks depend on. This comes on top of an overdue $36 million bill owed the company by the government. In response, the company stopped selling its medicine in the Greek market rather than take a loss on every sale.

But, instead of the beneficiaries rushing to the defense of the company whose valuable products they depend upon, they are attacking it! Mr. Bowden writes:

By any rational standard of justice, Novo Nordisk is completely in the right here. The company has done nothing to harm Greeks—on the contrary, it has offered them a positive value they didn’t have before, benefiting tens of thousands of people. By refusing to sell its products at a loss, the company is simply leaving Greek diabetics exactly as they were before it first offered those easy-to-use insulin pens for sale. Greeks who want more such devices should figure out a way to pay for them—not expect Novo Nordisk to sacrifice for the resolution of financial problems created not by them but by the Greeks themselves.

The company that seeks to profit from its own ability to produce valuable, life given products - i.e., from doing good - is being vilified for placing its bottom line above the needs of its customers. There is indeed a tragedy here, in that people are left without a readily available treatment. But the essential, unjust nature of the ethics of need is on display here, as well.

That which is “more than just the bottom line” here is diabetics’ need for Novo Nordisk’s products, considered apart from the willingness to pay for them. Serving that need is what constitutes a “corporate social responsibility.” Refusing to fulfill that need is what makes the company’s decision “blackmail.” And by acting in the company’s economic self-interest, its managers are expected to shoulder a burden of guilt for what then happens to 10-year-old diabetic girls–while parents shirk responsibility and write angry letters demanding something for nothing.

Novo Nordisk is the villain. Why? Because the company is the producer of the products people need. The real culprits - the Greek government, the welfare state, and the Greek people who support it - are given a pass. Why? Because they don't. Here is the essence of mankind's darkest moral evil - the sacrifice of the virtuous for being virtuous.

One would think that any rational person would rush to the defense of those one depends upon when they become the victims of injustice. Instead, we see starkly the sheer insanity wrought by the worship of the God of Need.

The full, destructive nature of the moral inversion called altruism, and its ultimate logical consequences, is dramatically demonstrated in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

Tom Bowden's piece can be read in its entirety here

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