Friday, September 6, 2019

Modern Extremes

Two stories featured on the WSJ front page today (lower right corner) deal with extremes. One covers very expensive Japanese whiskeys; another deals with new drugs, sold at astronomical prices, to treat rare diseases.

The Japanese whiskeys range in over-the-bar prices of $100 to $529 per shot. People aiming to display their wealth drink these and then announce the fact on social media. The expensive drugs are in support of gene therapies and range from $850,000 to $2.1 million per treatment regime. The story on drugs tells of schemes insurance companies are trying out to help employers pay for such treatments; the schemes involve collecting small sums monthly from all employees to accumulate totals that will be spent on the rare few. Such approaches, of course, leave people who are not insured under corporate health plans to their own devices.

As at the bottom, so at the top. I’ve never liked the taste of whisky; down a glass, make a face. Ugh. The effect that comes later is equally available drinking cognac or vodka. So the first group is drinking less for the effect and more for the status of being able to pay the price. But one has to announce that on Facebook, etc.

At the top another issue is involved. The general belief seems to be that life on earth, in these our bodies, is the absolute value second to none; hence millions of dollars are well worth a few months or years. Our own culture began with a much more sophisticated theory—namely that life on earth does not end with death; has that old theory really been disproved effectively? If yes, by all means labor hard to build up a few million in case your genes need therapy. If not, the answer to dire diagnosis is to shrug—and get on with making sure the will is written and the funeral paid for in advance. Wisdom seems easier. And a trip to the bar to get a $15 shot of U.S. whisky—while handing an $85 roll of bills to some homeless wretch sitting half a block away under a wall—may also be kinder.

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