Steve Sailer posts about an article in Fortune that details how an Indian generic drug maker, Ranbaxy, defrauded everyone they dealt with, from American regulators like the FDA to the ultimate users of their drugs. Their drugs were "useless at best," but they didn't mind endangering who knows how many lives as long as they kept getting away with it, laughing all the way to the bank.
In the comments, someone extends this case to include all kinds of other cheap junk made abroad and fobbed off on the American / Western public as quality stuff, such as a washer from GE (foreign) vs. Whirlpool (American).
I don't buy the extension -- if you knew your GE washer was made in China, you already half-expect it to be a typical Made-In-China piece of shit. You feel angry that GE, an American firm, duped you into believing it was American-made, but once you realize it's effectively a foreign knockoff, you start to prepare for the inevitable.
It's not too different from finding out that the Fendi leather purse you bought for your Jersey Shore girlfriend on eBay is just some Canal Street knockoff made in China. Or remember when you were a kid and you were over at a friend's house, ready to pour yourself a bowl of what you thought were Fruit Loops from one of those tupperware-type cereal containers, and your friend advised you that it was actually second-rate Fruit Rings inside? You knew what to expect after learning of their generic status.
In the Ranbaxy case, we didn't think it was a high-profile, reputable, name-brand American firm who was making the drugs. We knew at least that they were a generic manufacturer, though not necessarily suspecting that they were also foreign. The key point is that their status as a mass producer of knockoff products (generic drugs) did not send up any red flags about quality. Indeed, we may have even felt grateful toward them for sticking up for the little guy, giving us the drugs that those fat cats in Big Pharma would never part with for so little money.
We are so angry at name-brand drug makers charging so much money for their products that we are eager for their monopoly phase to end, when the government regulators open the cages on all the Robin Hood generic companies who will pounce on the name-brand company, rip the product right out of their hands, and hand it over to us, the users -- for a small finder's fee, of course, but still way less than what the originators would have charged us.
Our love of Robin Hood type narratives blinds us to the fact that in cases like generic drugs or open-source software, they aren't simply lifting the name-brand goods and selling them to us at a deep discount compared to retail, in the way that a common thief rips off an iPad from the Apple Store to sell for $50 on Craigslist. They're selling us their imitation, their interpretation, their best guess, their took-a-stab-at-it project.
The common thief tries to keep it quiet that he ripped the iPad off from the name-brand store -- uh, I got it as a gift and don't want it. Just don't ask why I'm selling an unwanted gift, unopened and in high demand, for only a measly 20% of retail rather than 50% or 80%. I don't want that extra money because, uh, I just want to get it out of here fast, and a lower price will move it faster. Just don't ask why I'm in such a hurry to get rid of it...
The makers of generic drugs and open-source software, however, boldly preen before an assembled audience about skillfully ripping off the name-brand products, more or less, and passing them on so cheaply to average consumers. You can't score Robin Hood status points without proclaiming that you're robbing from the rich.
That narrative hits such a primitive pleasure button -- the adrenaline rush from seeing a noble underdog dethrone a corrupt Establishment figurehead -- that it short-circuits the parts of our brain responsible for checking the provenance of stuff that seems to be too good to be true, and that's being peddled by some unctuous salesman who seems overly eager to get them into our hands.
Sure, in the back of our minds, we know that a generic drug or Open Office can't be fully as good as the original, but it's so cheap -- and a tiny amount of quality dilution is worth it, just to fuck those price-gougers up the ass and boycott their overhyped products.
But boycotting is not the same as patronizing their competitors. Once you go down the latter path, you open yourself up to being preyed on by the competitors -- they know that you're so blinded by rage to stick it to the Establishment, that you'll buy whatever shit they peddle. They'll goad you on by shouting how smart you are to have lifted the veil of name-brand fetishism -- Step Right Up, ladies and gentlemen! And take your best shot against those fat cats we've rounded up and trapped in the dunk tank! Only $10 a pop! Go ahead -- you know you've been waiting your entire life to stick it to 'em!
Carnival hucksters could probably get ordinary people to shoot their own children between the eyes, as long as their faces were covered with burlap sacks, and as long as the pitch was about letting your worst enemy have it -- and for only a measly couple-a bucks. Just don't ask how I managed to overpower your worst enemy and serve them up for you on a silver platter, all without you ever asking me to do so. I'm just a justice-oriented kinda guy, y'know -- a modern-day Robin Hood, some might say.
The main alternative idea for this kind of stuff that I've read has to do with us trusting those who are in control of life-and-death parts of the economy because we view those areas as sacred, hence beyond normal market forces, and although plagued by a few bad apples, still presided over by more or less honest folks -- not by used car salesman types, at the very least.
But I don't think that idea captures the full richness of the picture. We don't just trust the generic makers more than we ought to -- we halfway worship them as Robin Hood figures, enlist them on our side to fuck over the big companies who've always been gouging our wallet. And there's a strong undercurrent of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," which is easy to fit into the Robin Hood narrative, but not really into the story about trusting companies that deal with life-and-death matters.
Why don't we behave the same way toward cereal makers, then? Buy Fruit Rings by the barrel-full just to stick it to those fat cats over at Kellogg's who make Fruit Loops? Probably because we don't see the higher price of Fruit Loops as gouging, whereas expensive name-brand drugs jump out as a repeating heavy blow to our wallet. The prediction then is that the more some name-brand product costs, the more willing we are to blindly trust the generic makers who sell an alternative.
"I don't care if the Gucci bag is fake -- I mean, it's good enough, and looks close enough. I'm not gonna, like, let some huge company steal all my money for something that's only a little better."
This airheaded girl doesn't stop to think that maybe her Made-In-China knockoff is made from "leatherette" that's 50% used asbestos, and that's why it's so goddamn cheap. In a world where everyone's so obsessed with Keeping Down Costs, the producers will sell us lemons, and we'll be only too happy to buy them. All we need to do is take a look at life in China to find out how degraded and sub-human that mindset will make us.