Sam and Emma host freelance journalist Alexander Zaitchik to discuss his recent book Owning The Sun: A People’s History of Monopoly Medicine From Aspirin To COVID-19 Vaccines, on the development of patent regimes from an attempt to democratize knowledge to a system of corporate and institutional control. Zaitchik begins by walking Sam and Emma back to the inception of intellectual property and patents in Elizabethan England as a tool to constrain the Crown’s power to assign monopoly rights, and why, despite this attempt to democratize the production of knowledge, liberal thinkers of the time (such as John Locke) saw it as dampening the flow of knowledge. After briefly touching on the belief in IP rights as encouraging innovation, despite the transhistorical belief in knowledge as a collective product, and the lack of financial incentives behind almost every technological development before the industrial revolution, Sam, Emma, and Alexander look to the affirmation of patents and IP in the US Constitution as a tool of democratization, as we saw in England, and how that developed into a practice of corporate obstructionism beginning in the Gilded Age. Zaitchik then dives into the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, and his attempt to further “democratize” (his words, not mine) the patent regime by aligning it with physical property rights, thus completely individualizing knowledge under the guise of opening it up. This led to a rise of corporate research labs in the late 1800s, as they figured out how to amass more and more patents for technological and medical developments, keeping them in the hands of a corporate monopoly rather than individual innovators. Next, Alexander jumps to the New Deal era and attempts to rein in the patent regime, as FDR’s Department of Justice pushed a culture of anti-trust regulation, looking back to the Constitution’s statements on patents as a charge to support the diffusion of knowledge, particularly in the wake of WW1’s technological advancements falling into the hands of corporations that would go on to work intimately with Nazis. This brings them to the period from the 40s to the 80s which saw treasury-funded research go into public control, requiring genuine commitment to public interest for any monopoly approval, before neoliberalism took over in the Reagan era, with the passing of the Bayh-Dole act and Reagan’s creation of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals as a tool to fast track the approval of monopolies, really taking ideological court-packing to a new level. They wrap up the interview with an extended discussion on Bill Gates’s philanthropy in the world of global health, his leveraging of incredible financial, institutional, and media power to push his ideology, and how incredibly representative this is of countless issues with medical and technological IP, and the laundering process that is American philanthropy. Sam and Emma also touch on Biden’s falling approval ratings as he clamors to grab onto bad faith footholds, and the live drama that we saw this weekend (at the MR show, of course).
And in the Fun Half: Sam and Emma cover the most ridiculous takes in the wake of Will Smith’s slapping of Chris Rock at the Oscars, some of which are offered up by our very own comments section, and Jimmy Dore realizes that the true victims of the assault are stand-up comedians everywhere. Amy Klobuchar comes at the moral authority of the Supreme Court without going far enough to impact the power they have, Rick Scott offers up his plan to hike up taxes on half of the country and take away their healthcare as McConnell, for some reason, tries to sweep it under the rug, and Lara Logan returns for some classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theory stemming from Darwin. Nick from Pittsburgh discusses nuclear power and private regulation and Kowalski from NE reflects on the live show, plus, your calls and IMs!
Check out Alexander here: https://www.zaitchik.com/
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