Re: Bandow, Cato, and Drug “Reimportation”

Bill, I don’t think the drug reimportation debate was a “fraud”. You may be correct that increased reimportation from Canada would only drive Canadian prices up. But that is not the point. The point is you had a prominent libertarian arguing against importing a good simply because it was a way to get around patent rights. The point, for me, was that this illustrated that recognizing invalid property rights can only undermine real property rights.

Moreover, it is entirely possible Canada would simply import more drugs in response to greater reimportation back to the US; it is not so clear to me that lowering an artificially high monopoly price (that is, one set high due to patents) is the same as making the drug artificially cheap. If the Canadian price control lowered the drug’s price to below what could be charged with the benefit of a patent monopoly, but still higher than would be charged in a free market, the manufacturers presumably still make a nice profit–which is why they sell their drugs in price-controlled regimes in the first place. So it is not obvious to me that if Canada’s demand for pharmaceuticals increased–for whatever reason–it would not able to purchase additional units.As for Bandow’s line of argument re drug reimportation, it is clearly protectionist, in my view. Bandow was advocating federal policy that prevents US consumers from buying pharmaceuticals from Canada. In Bandow’s article, he wrote:

More seductive, however, is the idea — already approved by the Senate — to allow reimportation of American drugs from foreign nations. … Reimportation is an all-around bad idea. Allowing foreign suppliers to meet domestic demand would disrupt company distribution networks and preempt firm restrictions on product resale.

Note he talks about “allowing” reimportation being a “bad idea”. He clearly favors not allowing it, i.e. banning it. Can there be any doubt that this position is protectionist, and unlibertarian? The fact that Bandow has written some good things does not change this. The fact that drug reimportation is not a “viable option”, whatever that means, also does not change it. I don’t think it’s “lame”, whatever that means, to criticize a prominent libertarian for promoting the patent system and trade barriers to prop up patent rights, and even if it is “lame” to do so, that does not mean the criticism is incorrect.

You’re of course right Bandow has done some good things and this case is very sad. Bandow’s position on drug reimportation was, however, clearly unlibertarian, as even Cato recognized. Personally, I am not so sure why it’s wrong to write columns for pay; what interests me as a libertarian is that a libertarian might actually propound or even adopt unlibertarian views if he is paid to do so. Whether Bandow adopted these particular unlibertarian views due to Abramoff’s influence, I am not sure. I’d be curious to know, but as I said, it’s more interesting to me how false property rights–patents–undermine real property rights, than the issue of undue influence and hidden bias.


10:27 am on December 18, 2005