by das monde
Mon May 7th, 2007 at 06:41:44 AM EST
Most of us here at ET are capitalism skeptics, obviously. Discussion of neo-anarchist, social oriented or Veblenian alternatives is almost escalating. At minimum, we see shortcomings of capitalism workings (like forced obsclence) - can't they be corrected?
One of the views is that unrestricted capitalism works all fine while it can be afforded - there is plenty space and resources to utilize, there are still new nations to enter the markets, any kind of growth can continue uninterrupted. Yes, capitalism is supposed to solve scarcity of resources as well - but is it not creating the scarcity problem itself, unneccesarily and at a stupendous pace?
The implication of this view that "funny" things must happen when limits of growth or resources are about to be met. I consider here a couple of examples showing perhaps that the funny times are very near. Here I give one sad example below thw fold, and two examples of other kind in comments. I know, I make the connection with greedy profit seeking by "energetic" individuals in growing economies very easily, but... These consequences are within the nature of greed-admiring enterprising culture, are they not?
The sad example is reminiscent of the story of poisonous pet food from China. But this one can break your heart for real... You may heard this on the news, but I did not notice a discussion here.
Anyway, here is a story of our globalization:
From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine
The kidneys fail first. Then the central nervous system begins to misfire. Paralysis spreads, making breathing difficult, then often impossible without assistance. In the end, most victims die.
Many of them are children, poisoned at the hands of their unsuspecting parents.
The syrupy poison, diethylene glycol, is an indispensable part of the modern world, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze.
It is also a killer. And the deaths, if not intentional, are often no accident.
Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine -- cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs -- a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.
Toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs.
Panama is the most recent victim. Last year, government officials there unwittingly mixed diethylene glycol into 260,000 bottles of cold medicine -- with devastating results. Families have reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far. With the onset of the rainy season, investigators are racing to exhume as many potential victims as possible before bodies decompose even more.
It is a long story. You should read it full, if NY Times keeps it available. I cannot copy and paste it all here - if only for a little respect for copyright issues. Just a couple of snippets, far from every bit I would like to share:
Mr. Wang spent years as a tailor in the manufacturing towns of the Yangtze Delta, in eastern China. But he did not want to remain a common craftsman, villagers say. He set his sights on trading chemicals, a business rooted in the many small chemical plants that have sprouted in the region.
"He didn't know what he was doing," Mr. Wang's older brother, Wang Guoping, said in an interview. "He didn't understand chemicals."
But he did understand how to cheat the system.
Wang Guiping, 41, realized he could earn extra money by substituting cheaper, industrial-grade syrup -- not approved for human consumption -- for pharmaceutical grade syrup. To trick pharmaceutical buyers, he forged his licenses and laboratory analysis reports, records show.
Mr. Wang later told investigators that he figured no harm would come from the substitution, because he initially tested a small quantity. He did it with the expertise of a former tailor.
He swallowed some of it. When nothing happened, he shipped it.
One company that used the syrup beginning in early 2005 was Qiqihar No. 2 Pharmaceutical, about 1,000 miles away in Heilongjiang Province in the northeast. A buyer for the factory had seen a posting for Mr. Wang's syrup on an industry Web site.
After a while, Mr. Wang set out to find an even cheaper substitute syrup so he could increase his profit even more, according to a Chinese investigator. In a chemical book he found what he was looking for: another odorless syrup -- diethylene glycol. At the time, it sold for 6,000 to 7,000 yuan a ton, or about $725 to $845, while pharmaceutical-grade syrup cost 15,000 yuan, or about $1,815, according to the investigator.
Mr. Wang did not taste-test this second batch of syrup before shipping it to Qiqihar Pharmaceutical, the government investigator said, adding, "He knew it was dangerous, but he didn't know that it could kill."
They say, no Chinese laws had been broken... their safety regulations lag far behind their growing scope as low-cost supplier...
Early last September, doctors at Panama City's big public hospital began to notice patients exhibiting unusual symptoms.
They initially appeared to have Guillain-Barré syndrome, a relatively rare neurological disorder that first shows up as a weakness or tingling sensation in the legs. That weakness often intensifies, spreading upward to the arms and chest, sometimes causing total paralysis and an inability to breathe.
The new patients had paralysis, but it did not spread upward. They also quickly lost their ability to urinate, a condition not associated with Guillain-Barré. Even more unusual was the number of cases. In a full year, doctors might see eight cases of Guillain-Barré, yet they saw that many in just two weeks.
Doctors sought help from an infectious disease specialist, Néstor Sosa, an intense, driven doctor who competes in triathlons and high-level chess.
Dr. Sosa's medical specialty had a long, rich history in Panama, once known as one of the world's unhealthiest places. In one year in the late 1800s, a lethal mix of yellow fever and malaria killed nearly 1 in every 10 residents of Panama City. Only after the United States managed to overcome those mosquito-borne diseases was it able to build the Panama Canal without the devastation that undermined an earlier attempt by the French.
The suspected Guillain-Barré cases worried Dr. Sosa. "It was something really extraordinary, something that was obviously reaching epidemic dimensions in our hospital," he said.
With the death rate from the mystery illness near 50 percent, Dr. Sosa alerted the hospital management, which asked him to set up and run a task force to handle the situation. The assignment, a daunting around-the-clock dash to catch a killer, was one he eagerly embraced.
Several years earlier, Dr. Sosa had watched as other doctors identified the cause of another epidemic, later identified as hantavirus, a pathogen spread by infected rodents.
"I took care of patients but I somehow felt I did not do enough," he said. The next time, he vowed, would be different.
Dr. Sosa set up a 24-hour "war room" in the hospital, where doctors could compare notes and theories as they scoured medical records for clues.
As a precaution, the patients with the mystery illness were segregated and placed in a large empty room awaiting renovation. Health care workers wore masks, heightening fears in the hospital and the community.
"That spread a lot of panic," said Dr. Jorge Motta, a cardiologist who runs the Gorgas Memorial Institute, a widely respected medical research center in Panama. "That is always a terrifying thought, that you will be the epicenter of a new infectious disease, and especially a new infectious disease that kills with a high rate of death, like this."
Meanwhile, patients kept coming, and hospital personnel could barely keep up.
"I ended up giving C.P.R.," Dr. Sosa said. "I haven't given C.P.R. since I was a resident, but there were so many crises going on."
Frightened hospital patients had to watch others around them die for reasons no one understood, fearing that they might be next.
How do you discover the poisonous reason? Do you get a Nobel prize for that?