Magazine

The Woes Of U.S. Drugmakers


John Carey's commentary "A booster shot for vaccines" (News Analysis & Commentary, Oct. 25) implies that weak pricing and the need to invest in complex manufacturing procedures has led to the current flu-vaccine shortage. This is ironic, since most Americans seem to feel that we would all be better off if drug companies charged less for their products. If we successfully make drug companies lower their prices, maybe we'll also find other pharmaceuticals in short supply.

Thomas Pisaturo

Hancock, N.H.

Why would any pharmaceutical company whose management has half a brain want to produce, at great cost, a vaccine for anything today? All this industry gets for its costly pains is grief from the World Health Organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, and every other knee-jerk liberal in the world, as well as attorneys salivating to pounce on a company when a product, approved by our Food & Drug Administration, is later found to cause problems. Merck & Co. (MRK), for example, created a drug for curing river blindness in Africa, from which it has never earned a nickel, having given it away (and probably even paying for shipping costs).

When will people learn that drugs do not come from the National Institutes of Health, nor any other governmental bureaucracy, but from capitalistic pharmaceutical companies that do the science and deserve to make profits? And then they're only permitted to charge what socialistic governments throughout the world will allow, forcing U.S. citizens to pay higher prices to cover the cheap prices paid by Europeans and Canadians.

Judy Rosner

Elmhurst, Ill.

Since the late 1990s, both China and India have come "online," intertwining their economies with the West, notably the U.S. ("Jobs: The lull will linger," News: Analysis & Commentary, Oct. 25). China, for example, relies on the American consumer to fuel fully 50% of its export program, contributing to the gargantuan trade deficit. India, meanwhile, has been the recipient of tens of thousands of outsourced jobs from U.S. businesses. Any fair trader will say that this is a good thing, since those economies will, the theory goes, eventually buy U.S. goods and services with net profits derived from trade relations with the U.S. Further, the resulting economic integration and co-dependency help nations avoid settling their disputes with the military option -- witness the bulwark efforts by China and Japan to contain North Korea.

The more obvious line of reasoning is that IT itself may be the very place for job creation. As one interested reader witnessing the effects of globalization on the U.S. and abroad, I cannot help but be led to the same conclusion over and over again: The demand for knowledge workers will continue to rise sharply as more nations compete through international trade. Although thousands of U.S.-based computer programming jobs have been eliminated in the U.S., the demand for systems analysts, project managers, and systems architects continues to rise.

James W. Gabberty

Pace University

New York

As a group product manager for a major PC product, one of my jobs was to work with both Digital Research and Microsoft (MSFT) to ship both CP/M and MS-DOS with our Intel-based machine ("The man who could have been Bill Gates," Information Technology, Oct. 25). So I had relationships in those early days with both Gary Kildall and Bill Gates, being wined and dined by both. There were many times an evangelistic Gates pontificated about the future of PCs on the desktop. Kildall confirmed to me the basics of the huge misstep with IBM. (IBM)

The key to the success of Microsoft, and MS-DOS, which focused on application-development languages at the time, was the tie-in between MS-DOS and specific hardware capabilities of the IBM PC. Both MS-DOS and CP/M bore remarkable similarities to RT-11, a minicomputer operating system of Digital Equipment Corp. By tying MS-DOS to the IBM PC, application providers' software products were locked into this combo. To make those same "killer apps" available on competing PCs was a major challenge for those companies. It was the introduction of Lotus 1-2-3 that created the start of the phenomena we know today.

Kerry Bensman

Lafayette, Colo.

I have been a computing professional for more than three decades. I worked with both CP/M and DOS -- PC-DOS and MS-DOS -- and while the two products were similar, they were certainly not identical. CP/M was designed for 8-bit, S-100 machines, which were significantly different from the IBM PC, both in function and architecture. The differences broadened as time went on, with DOS progressing much faster than CP/M. The Digital Research Inc. products for the PC never reached the levels of sophistication that were necessary and were never competitive.

This was in 1980, and IBM dominated all sections of the computer industry. I distinctly recall discussing with an IBM Fellow, who had been intimately involved in the PC project in Boca Raton, Fla., the issue of why IBM chose DOS rather than CP/M -- which would have seemed the more obvious choice. He explained to me the IBM philosophy at the time: When choosing a supplier, IBM always chose one who would not have any control over the project or over IBM -- in other words, the weaker company. IBM chose Microsoft to retain total control over the project. It failed in that objective.

Kildall was not "Bill Gates," not because of what anybody did to him, or even what he did not do, but simply because that is the way the cards fell -- and because he did not react quickly and forcefully afterward.

Mordechai Ben-Menachem

Ben-Gurion University

Beer-Sheva, Israel

"Now that's plug-and-play" (Up Front, Oct. 25), about the new Federal Communication Commission rules facilitating broadband over power lines (BPL), gives the false impression that there is no downside to this technology. In fact, both the FCC and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration acknowledge that BPL poses a risk of causing interference to licensed radio services such as fire and police frequencies, Federal Emergency Management Agency backup circuits, shortwave broadcasts, aeronautical mobile communications, amateur radio, and several broadcast TV channels.

By not imposing more stringent safeguards in its decision, the FCC fails in one of its primary responsibilities -- to protect licensed wireless users from interference. Other less invasive technologies exist to promote broadband Internet access. One must ask which is more important: effective public service and emergency communications capability, or a refrigerator that can send e-mail over the power line when it's low on ice?

Wayne Greaves

San Patricio, N.M.

In "public airwaves, private purpose" (Editorials, Oct. 25), you implore broadcasters to "show a modicum of fairness" in selecting their programming. The message is that "fairness" requires acting deliberately against one's personal convictions. You chastise the CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI) for running a partisan documentary that he likes and for refraining from airing an ABC Nightline show that he found offensive. You suggest that he ought to do the reverse: airing what he despises and not showing what he finds commendable. Privately owned companies should be free to broadcast whatever pleases their owners. Real "abuse of power" comes from those who would have the government dictate program content.

Barry A. Liebling

New York

"The best b-schools" (Cover Story, Oct. 18) has a sentence that describes a student writing about visiting a "Polish concentration camp." Everyone who knows history knows what the writer had in mind, but it is definitely not the correct phrase to use in a leading international magazine. There were no Polish concentration camps in World War II. There were only concentration camps set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. They should be referred to as German concentration camps in Poland or Nazi Germany concentration camps in Poland.

Jakub Krawczyk

London


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