What could we do to encourage more of these wealthy to worry — and care — about everyone’s health? Senator Bernie Sanders has just introduced legislation that takes a crack at that question.
This new Sanders legislation, the UBS polling suggests, couldn’t come at a better time.
Researchers at UBS Wealth Management surveyed 5,000 “high net worth individuals” worldwide between December and April. All these individuals hold at least $1 million in investable assets above and beyond the value of whatever residential properties they may own.
The attitudes of these wealthy about health, UBS found, turn out to vary widely from one nation to another. Over half of the U.S. millionaires — 57 percent — “worry their health will deteriorate in the next 10 years,” and only 30 percent believe they’ll live to reach 100. In Germany, by contrast, 76 percent of millionaires believe they’ll hit the century mark.
Overall, U.S. millionaires — the world’s richest — ranked dead last on the UBS survey’s expect-to-live-to-100 question.
The global wealthy, the United States included, all do seem to agree that “health” matters more than “wealth.” In the United States, over three-quarters of the wealthy polled — 77 percent — told UBS they value health as more important than whatever fortune they may have amassed.
But some of America’s contemporary wealthy — the top executives of our pharmaceutical industry — appear to have a quite different take on health-wealth priorities. In practice, notes Senator Sanders, these execs are privileging their own personal wealth over other people’s health. His latest legislative initiative takes direct aim at that privilege.
The new Sanders Opioid Crisis Accountability Act of 2018 would impose a 10-year minimum prison sentence on any top drug executive whose company has illegally contributed to the opioid crisis. Those execs would also face fines equal to their personal executive compensation.
In 2016 alone, Sanders notes, opioid overdoses cost 63,000 Americans their lives. Big Pharma bears major responsibility for huge numbers of those deaths.
“We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured,” says the Vermont senator. “They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients.”
For many Big Pharma execs, this refusal has been profitable. One example: Since 2010, Axios reported last July, John Hammergren of the drug industry giant McKesson has collected $587 million in compensation.
This past February congressional investigators revealed that McKesson shipped over a two-year period nearly 5 million opioid painkiller pills to a single drive-thru pharmacy in a small West Virginia town of just 400 residents.
We have, notes analyst Charles Hugh Smith, “a pharmaceutical industry hard-wired to seek and promote ‘the next billion-dollar drug’ regardless of the long-term consequences.”
Only one major pharmaceutical company, OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, has so far been held accountable for marketing opioids irresponsibly. In 2007, Purdue paid $600 million in fines for misleading the public. But the company, Sanders points out, has still made $22 billion off its opioid sales over the past decade.
The various branches of the Sackler clan — the family behind Purdue Pharma — together now make up one of America’s richest families, with a current net worth, Forbes calculates, about $13 billion.
On average, according to the UBS survey figures, millionaires in America say they would sacrifice over a quarter — 27 percent — of their wealth to guarantee themselves an extra 10 years of healthy life.
As generous souls, we should wish all our mega millionaires long and healthy lives. If only all of them could wish the same for the rest of us . . .
Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. Among his books on maldistributed income and wealth: The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. His latest book, The Case for a Maximum Wage, will appear this spring. Table of Contents
- Introduction/ Moderation in All Things, Even Income
- 1/ Defining Excess
- 2/ The Magic of Maximum Multiples
- 3/ A Society without a Super Rich
- 4/ Pipe Dream or Politically Practical Project?
- 5/ Evolving toward Equity
“Sam Pizzigati brilliantly explains how high taxation of the very rich dissuaded them from exploiting the rest of us so much in the past, how we lost that protection, and what we need to do to win it back today. A work of genius.”
Danny Dorling, University of Oxford
“Pizzigati raises an urgent question: How long can we endure the burden of the super-rich, who suppress the wages of the majority, drive up the costs of everything, and concentrate political power in their own hands? Fortunately he has an answer, and it cries out for enactment.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed