As my C4SS comrade Charles Johnson has pointed out, circumventing state authority and capitalist monopoly is far more cost-effective than lobbying and organizing to reform the law. This is confirmed, once again, by news of open-source hardware projects that offer much cheaper versions of two outrageously expensive medical devices: the EpiPen and the MRI machine.
The Open Source Imaging Initiative aims to “to develop an MR scanner that is affordable to build, operate, maintain and repair by providing full, freely available technical documentation that follows the standards of open-source hardware.”
At Activist Post, Brian Berletic (“EpiPen goes from $300 to $30 to $3 with Opensource and 3D Printing,” Oct. 11) notes that, compared to the superficial political outrage and posturing over the EpiPen, “perhaps more effective was a DIY biohacking group’s demonstration of turning an ordinary store-bought autoinjector into a functioning EpiPen, called an “EpiPencil.” This prototype costs $30-40 to make; but replacing the store-bought plastic parts with 3D-printed ones could lower the cost to $3. The design is not yet shelf-stable for extended and requires further development, but offers exciting possibilities.
Berletic notes that such open hardware projects “represent the surest means of holding corporations and governments accountable, not by begging them to do what they should already be doing, but forcing them change their behavior or face being displaced from markets by cheaper, opensource alternatives and eventually, an entirely alternative paradigm.” While activism may mean participating in projects, people also engage in activism when they “roll up their sleeves and create with their own two hands the change they want to see in the world.”
Johnson (“Counter-Economic Optimism,” Rad Geek People’s Daily, Feb. 7, 2009) stated the same principle back in 2008 in regard to copyright law. While copyright laws written by the proprietary content and software industries might be more draconian than ever, he said, the situation on the ground was more favorable than ever to people who wanted to ignore the laws and copy protected content.
If you direct your hopes and efforts into legal reform, “you will find yourself outmaneuvered at every turn by those who have the deepest pockets and the best media access and the tightest connections.” This is only to be expected “because, after all, the system was made for them and the system was made by them.” Lobbying and legal reform efforts have a huge effort-to-payoff ratio.
The cost-benefit calculus is much better for circumvention. “A law that cannot be enforced is as good as a a law that has been repealed, and that is where we’re headed, faster and faster every day, when it comes to the intellectual monopolists and their jealously guarded legal privileges.”
Imagine federations of neighborhood cooperative clinics sharing open-source MRI machines and other devices, using open-source versions of EpiPen, O2 cannulas, IV tubing, etc., printed in neighborhood cooperative machine shops, and pirated versions of drugs under patent printed in DIY Bio labs — all for a tiny fraction of the present cost of healthcare inside the corporate-state monopoly framework, and funded by the kinds of working class mutuals that flourished in the 19th and early 20th century.
When the state does fund healthcare, as with Medicare Part D and Affordable Health Act subsidies, its approach is to leave all the state-enforced capitalist monopolies (patents, practitioner licensing cartels, entry barriers and restraints on competition among giant bureaucratic hospitals) and simply help the poorest to purchase healthcare at the enormously inflated monopoly price. But it’s the monopoly price of healthcare itself — embedded rents on “intellectual property,” licensing, and bureaucratic overhead — that’s the problem in the first place. And the state will never do anything about this problem because enforcing the artificial property rights the propertied classes extract rents from is the main thing states do. Plus the managerial bureaucracies of state regulatory agencies and giant corporations are basically run by the same people, shuffling from one institution to another and back.
Governments, corporations and other large institutions will never truly represent us or be accountable to us. We need to create horizontal, cooperative institutions of our own that serve us, instead of bleeding us dry.