Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A Cautionary Tale of a Drug Monopoly

In the far away land of ancapistan, a problem developed. A rare plant was discovered, erutan foestat, from which a powerful drug called Worpe could be made. The problem was this: on the one hand, in low doses, Worpe was the most powerful anti-cancer drug ever developed, while on the other hand, it was the most addictive substance yet known to man. A single dose at a high enough level would cause full-blown addiction, and so dealers could and would garner clientele simply by slipping people one dose. The addict would then devote his or her life entirely to getting more of the drug.

What to do? A council of defense agencies was called. They decided they would set up a corporation, in which they all owned an equal share, that would first buy up all of the land suitable for growing erutan, and then control the production of Worpe so that it would only be distributed to legitimate medical users.

The program was wildly successful: almost immediately, addiction rates dropped by 90%. Of course, nothing is perfect. Corrupt officials in the corporation diverted some Worpe to the black market. And seemingly some patches of land where erutan could be grown had been missed, as supply from mysterious sources sometimes was found on the market. But still, almost everyone was very pleased with the result.

However, time passed: in fact, centuries passed. People came to forget how bad the addiction problem had been, or even came to believe it was just a tall tale put out by Nah Taivel Incorporated, the company that had been set up to control Worpe production. And to be fair to those cynics, at times, the control of Nah Taivel had passed into the hands of criminals, who had diverted large portions of the supply of Worpe to the black market. But that always had created such chaos that management would be ousted, and the corporation re-directed to (mostly) fulfill its original mission with, again, the usual amount of corruption, vice and greed found in any group of humans.

But, having forgotten the state of affairs that existed before Nah Taivel had been created, people began to blame the company itself for the problem, as if Worpe had not existed prior to the corporation! They argued, "Look, Nah Taivel was supposedly set up to solve the problem of Worpe. What a farce: for centuries, the company itself has been the major source of Worpe! Every time there is an outbreak of Worpe addiction, who was behind it? Nah Taivel! The solution is to break up this monopoly, and allow free production of Worpe by anyone who wants to enter the business."

It is seemingly no use pointing out to these protesters that, having a monopoly over the production of Worpe, of course Nah Taivel is the main source of bad uses of it! It is no use noting that their solution has already been tried, that we once had competing producers of Worpe, and that we know the situation was far, far worse then. They are annoyed that human nature is not yet perfect, they have found what they see as an easy fix to that imperfection, and therefore they have immunized themselves against any evidence casting doubt on their crusade.

What to do with these well-meaning but seriously mistaken people? Perhaps getting them to see the real situation in a fictional guise might allow them to gain some distance from their obsession? Could we show them things as if in a mirror, or scrambled?


  1. Replies
    1. How long did it take to get the reversal? I want it just hard enough that the reader is at least halfway through before it hits them: do I need to use some anagrams, or was this sufficient?

    2. My first thought was anagram. I tried reversing the Hobbes reference and it didn't click, but then I did ReWop and the erutan.
      I knew something was up immediately of course, but didn't get it until I was 1/3 to 1/2 done.

    3. As soon as I saw "Nah Taivel".

    4. Ok, I get it. Forget that.

  2. I picked it up in the second sentence.

    1. Too easy! I scrambled things a bit more.

    2. Still cine yerv.

  3. Ahh but now you need to change the mirror in the last line.

  4. Gene
    This reminds me of an old SF short story by either Clarke or (more likely) Asimov. Someone invents a history viewer, it lets you watch moments in the past, and a researcher wants to look at doings in the 14th century, but finds the govt has monopolized and restricted the viewer. Our intrepid hero protests. (spoiler alert) Later we learn the rationale for the ban. When does the past start? just now. Unrestricted the history viewer is ubiquitous spyware. A lovely twist ending as these stories always have the state as the villain.

  5. I didn't catch the anagrams, but in my defense, I thought that was a riff on that big-budget movie with the blue people (which I never saw).

    I am glad Gene has come out fully with his proposal to ban drugs.

  6. After this post, I am even more interested in a Callahan response to Long's Ten Objections talk.



Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy Deneen: The American Conservative Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews