- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

Let the market determine prices

Deroy Murdock’s “Demonizing the drug business” (Commentary, Monday) makes some illuminating points about the charity work of the pharmaceutical industry. However, his analysis and the criticisms of drug companies from the left miss the point.

Americans tend to dislike anything that diverts significantly from the norm or mainstream. Most industries are subject to intense competition, which leads to lower-cost products and services.

Consumers have significant power through their exercise of choice. By contrast, when consumers become patients, they often lack the knowledge to make choices, and in the case of prescription drugs, they also find themselves dealing with monopolies created by patents.

I suggest that before we start suggesting major reform of this system or pro-drug-company ad campaigns, we should recognize the psychology of the observable consumer-patient distress that exists on this issue.

Ultimately, I think the real market-based answer is to enhance competition and consumer access to information.

MARK A. NEWSOM

Columbia, Md.

U.S. bonds are real assets

Your editorial “Reforming Social Security” (Dec. 20) says that government “IOUs” in the trust fund “are not real assets in any sense of the word.” Why confuse the issue by saying this? Everyone knows U.S. bonds are real assets.

As you say, the trust fund owns $1.5 trillion in U.S. bonds. If it owned more — enough more — Social Security would be healthy. This shortfall is called the present value of the unfunded liability. How huge is this?

In recent months, various writers in your pages have presented estimates ranging from $4.4 trillion to $13 trillion. Let’s say it’s $10 trillion, as your editorial suggests. Then, if the trust fund owned $11.5 trillion in bonds instead of $1.5 trillion, Social Security would be healthy.

But how can the system acquire another $10 trillion in a fair way? And even if Social Security had the money, should the government borrow another $10 trillion from Social Security? Would it be healthy for the government to violate its own debt limit? This is an excellent reason to permit alternative investments of Social Security money.

The liberal media are filled with tired cliches about Social Security and foolish attacks on President Bush’s ideas for reform. Thank you for swimming against that tide, but misleading editorials don’t help us educate our liberal friends.

JAMES E. FELTEN

Greenbelt

Keeping up military research

I want to be sure I’m getting Donald Losman’s thesis right (“Too much military R&D;?” Forum, Dec. 26). Simply put, he is saying we should curtail seeking advancements in military technology because our NATO allies and others don’t have the will or the wherewithal to keep up with us. Or, worse, they can’t or won’t invest in the technology transfer that would allow them to take advantage of our progress.

If I’m accurate, it’s probably the worst idea I’ve heard since the fight over sails vs. steam. The list of advances in military technology over the generations would fill books. Every one of them would have been scuttled had this type of thinking been in place.

Also, I dispute Mr. Losman’s contention that there is a widening gap between American and European capabilities. Mr. Losman should consult with one of his military colleagues at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces about “commonality.” Such efforts have been going on successfully for years.

ROY PRESTON

Lusby, Md.

Shady dealings in Maryland?

Your Dec.27 editorial “Terry Lierman’s party” discusses the selection of Terry Lierman to be the head of the Maryland Democratic Party. It states, “Mr. Lierman, a lobbyist for the Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company, gave a $25,000 loan at below-market rates to Democratic Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, who subsequently signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill that extended the firm’s patent on the allergy drug Claritin.”

The Federal Election Commission, in its “Statement of Reasons” from March 11, 2002, found that it had no jurisdiction over Mr. Lierman’s loan to Mr. Moran as it was not campaign-related.

However, the FEC did provide a tantalizing tidbit of information. It stated, “The loan was apparently the subject of a promissory note carrying an 8% annual interest rate and an option for a loan of additional funds on the same terms. According to news reports, in November 2000 the balance of the loan was repaid plus 12.8% interest.”

Very interesting. The loan was for 8 percent, but Mr. Moran paid it back at 12.8 percent. No one pays back an ordinary loan at 4 percent more than the interest that is due.

I think Mr. Moran paid extra because he was embarrassed that the rate was below market.

Trying to get Mr. Moran’s enablers to admit that there was anything illicit about this loan is next to impossible. Last summer when I was still on speaking terms with my representative in the Virginia House of Delegates, I complained to Democratic Delegate Mark Sickles about it.

Mr. Sickles spewed propaganda in response, claiming that Mr. Moran “didn’t do anything wrong” and that Mr. Moran would have supported the bill to outlaw generic versions of Claritin even if Mr. Lierman had not lent him the money.

Mr. Sickles did allow, however, that Mr. Moran should not have accepted the loan because it “looked bad.” There you have it. According to Mr. Sickles, the only reason for Mr. Moran not to have accepted this loan was that the public found out about it.

What else are Mr. Moran’s supporters hiding from the public?

JONATHAN S. MARK

Alexandria

Rounding up drunken drivers

The Maryland State Police should be commended for rounding up drunken drivers with “saturation” patrols (“Police to boost patrols, checks during holiday,” Metropolitan, Thursday). Let’s hope the other law-enforcement agencies in the Washington area follow their lead and stop diverting valuable resources toward roadblocks.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, today’s drunken-driving problem is “by far and away” made up of “those who have alcohol use disorders.” The administration’s figures show that the average blood alcohol content of a drunken driver in a fatal crash is 0.16 percent. That’s twice the legal limit in almost every state.

These chronic alcohol abusers know when and where police will be stopping drivers because roadblocks are, by their design, highly publicized. According to an NHTSA study, drunken drivers “used their knowledge of checkpoints to avoid arrest by selecting alternate routes.” NHTSA found that roving patrols are the best way to get habitual drunken drivers off the streets. Man for man, these patrols net nearly three times the drunken-driving arrests as do roadblocks.

Roadblocks are a costly detour from effective law enforcement. We must use tactics that are proven to be effective at getting drunken drivers off the road.

JOHN DOYLE

Executive director

American Beverage Institute

Washington

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