Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Response to the "Leftists and Conservatives have Different Brain Structures"

A Response to the "Leftists and Conservatives have Different Brain Structures" 

I would like to say that the idea where people with different political affiliations have different chemical and physical brain structures is new, but unfortunately this idea has been pushed since the late and post-World War II era. The Authoritarian Personality was written in 1950 by a group of sociologists from the University of California at Berkeley. Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswick,  Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford were all psychologists at the university, and together they performed a series of sociological studies that were aimed to identify what characteristics or environmental factors cause an individual to follow authoritarian or fascist ideologies. 

"The research to be reported in this volume was guided by the following major hypothesis: that the political, economic, and social convictions of an individual often form a broad and coherent pattern, as if bound together by a "mentality" or "spirit," and that this pattern is an expression of deep-lying trends in his personality. 
"The major concern was with the potentially fascistic individual, one whose structure is such as to render him particularly susceptible to anti-democratic propaganda. We say 'potential' because we have not studied individuals who were avowedly fascistic or who belonged to known fascist organizations."
The idea is that if one can identify social factors that have potential to cause an attraction to fascist or anti-semitic sociopolitical ideologies, then a global treatment could be procured so that one would be able to prevent future cases of fascist or authoritarian regimes taking control of a nation's political system. The studies were done primarily using questionnaires from different institutions in California, although the majority of the data collected came from college campuses, trade unions, military servicemen, and prisons from the surrounding area near UC Berkeley.

"In order to study potentially antidemocratic individuals it was necessary first to identify them. Hence a start was made by constructing a questionnaire and having it filled out anonymously by a large group of people. This questionnaire contained, in addition to numerous questions of fact about the subject's past and present life, a variety of antidemocratic statements with which the subjects were invited to agree or disagree. A number of individuals who showed the greatest amount of agreement with these statements—and, by way of contrast, some who showed the most disagreement or, in some instances, were most neutral—were then studied by means of interviews and other clinical techniques. On the basis of these individual studies the questionnaire was revised, and the whole procedure repeated."
Now, anyone who is knowledgeable of the scientific method should immediately become skeptical of these studies. When it comes to experimentation, first a hypothesis is formed, and then the experimenter looks for variables that can be manipulated to create consistent results. In the case of The Authoritarian Personality, these variables don't exist. To assume that one can find variables that can be manipulated to create an individual with strong authoritarian or fascist beliefs means that the researchers believe that there is a control factor when it comes to a person's social and political ideologies; therefore, the study itself has determined certain beliefs which are pathological and certain beliefs that are non-pathological. This implication of a pathological belief creates implicit political bias, especially when considering the inherent sampling bias for which the studies have been criticized heavily. For example, the writers of The Authoritarian Personality identified democratic beliefs with Marxist beliefs. For authoritarianism, the researchers used an odd mix of different ideologies.

"Opinion-attitude scales were used from the start in order to obtain quantitative estimates of certain surface ideological trends: anti-Semitism, ethnocentrism, politico-economic conservatism. Later, a scale was developed for the measurement of antidemocratic tendencies in the personality itself."
Antisemitism is obviously a factor that could be attributed to a fascist regime, but historically it has not always been the case. For example, Adolf Hitler was clearly an antisemitic leader, but Mao Zedong's cultural uprising in China had little to do with antisemitism; Mao an adamant believer in racial equality, and he even wrote articles that supported anti-discrimination laws in the United States. This however does not subtract from the fact that Mao Zedong's communist regime was one of the most deadly in history, killing more than Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin combined.

Ethnocentrism is the judgement of a culture based off of an individual's own preconceived culture. Although this ideology often leads to racist tendencies, the use of ethnocentrism as a faucet of fascism is to say that the idea for me, an American College student, to say that the heavy presence of female genital mutilation in Somalia is morally wrong would be implicitly fascist or culturally insensitive by this definition. Perhaps the reason that ethnocentrism was used for the study's definition of fascism was due to the rise of nationalism in Germany while Hitler was taking power. Nationalism by definition is to have pride in one's nation, and many believe that pride in one's nation requires that their nation's culture must be compared to the cultures of other nations. This of course is a ridiculous assumption since pride doesn't have to do with comparisons, and a nation is not the same as a nation's government. For example, if a man is proud of his 1994 Ford Taurus, that does not mean that he believes his car is better than all other cars; his pride solely means that he feels a deep satisfaction of the quality of his vehicle. As another example, someone from the US can love his country and its beauty and culture, but he can also despise the grand canyon since its nothing more than a bunch of big holes in the ground. This man is still feeling a sense of pride in his country, which is in essence nationalism.

For politico-conservatism, it depends on which definition the writers were using. Over the years the definition of "conservatism" and what it means in regards to political theory has changed. The term was first used in France in 1818 to describe French politicians who wished to return to the governmental system from before the French Revolution. After Napoleon Bonaparte's dictatorship fell in Paris in 1814, a period of national rebuilding occurred called the Bourbon Restoration. During this time, many French politicians wished to return to the constitutional monarchy that had existed before the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power. This period of course was halted by Napoleon's return in 1815. So, to bring that to the modern day context, conservatism is a wish to return to older forms of governments, or in essence to return to "the way things were." For The Authoritarian Personality, the use of conservatism to describe authoritarianism doesn't exactly make sense; to explain, one must look at the history of the United States before the study had taken place.

1950 was an interesting time for the United States, since the nation had just entered the post-WWII era, Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued in his "new deal," and the African-American Civil Rights movement had entered its genesis with national demonstrations being held in the 1930's and 1940's as a reaction to several democratic policies, including Woodrow Wilson's laws that induced racial discrimination of federal hiring and segregation of the military in 1913. During this time, conservatism held a wide variety of views, but to get a general view of the political ideology in the US, one can turn to Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Elliot which was published in 1953. Kirk's book goes into great detail of the different types of conservative political beliefs that were practiced throughout American history, going all the way back to the American Revolution. In the first chapter, he lays out six characteristics that would later govern the evolution of conservatism into modern day politics. Those characteristics are as such:

  1. Belief in some form of higher power that governs morality in society and people. In the world, there is truth and what is right, and there is falsehood and what is wrong. There is an unchanging standard of morality in society.
  2. Affection for the variety and mystery of human existence. This is in contrast with "radical" views of the time which promoted egalitarianism and uniformity amongst the people. An example of this would be multiculturalism which pushes to meld different cultures under one identity instead of allowing multiple distinct cultures to retain their distinct identities. 
  3. Convictions in a rule of law and a middle class, as opposed to a middle class society. The conservative's definition of equality would be a meritocracy: all men deserve an equal opportunity at success, but this does not mean all men are guaranteed equal outcome from their efforts since not every man will give an equal effort in his respective opportunity. This way of thought promotes individual freedom, and its origin can be attributed to classical liberalism. 
  4. Freedom and property are linked, and without private property the state is unstoppable. The redistribution of wealth through taxes and nationalization of private corporations provides the government with complete control over its citizens, meaning that human rights can be stripped away. As an example, if the state nationalized news media as a way to provide equal pay for reporters, then the right to freedom of press will be taken away by policies of these government news media organizations. 
  5. Distrust in those who wish to radically rebuild governmental and societal systems with abstract designs. The conservative believes that some things are the way they are for good reason. These customary traditions provide a check on both anarchy and man's lust for power. 
  6. Recognition that change may not always be the best option. Potential change should be carefully investigated and debated before its implementation. Hasty political progressions have as much power to destroy as they do to improve, and therefore new policies or ways of government should be thoroughly analyzed in a public forum. 
The American politico-conservative view focused on limiting government power and protecting human rights. This is in sharp contrast of the fascist ideology which promotes authoritarian regimes as opposed to democratic processes derived from the Founding Father's classically liberal beliefs that hold great significance in conservative views. One could argue that since some of the researchers that contributed to The Authoritarian Personality are using the definition that would better suit post-WWI Germany when many wished to return to a constitutional monarchy, but if this were the case then the methods outlined by the book would be ineffective in analyzing many different conservative outlooks throughout the western world. Even if the methods were considered sound, which I will discuss soon why they are not, then they would only be usable for the analysis of the various political parties that formed during the post-WWI reconstruction period and the establishment of the Weimar Republic. In contrast to the post-WWI German conservative ideology, the beliefs as described by Kirk are a reaction to the Democratic party's cultural shift from classical liberalism to more socialist and Marxist ideologies, such as the redistribution of wealth by government mandate. 

After identifying the beliefs used by the researchers of The Authoritarian Personality to describe authoritarianism, one must wonder why these ideologies were used to identify individuals who were subject to anti-democratic propaganda. The use of antisemitism is obvious when considering two of the authors' histories; Adorno was a German composer and philosopher that was living in the United States in exile, and the US's conservative anti-Nazism and anti-communist positions placed immigrants like Adorno in a class of regulating policies for "enemy aliens." Frenkel-Brunswick was a Polish woman who fled to Austrian and then later to the United States during the Nazi's anti-Jewish persecution. Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson, and Sanford were also all researchers of ethnocentrism, and they argued that ethnocentrism in a general sense can lead to antisemitism, which in turn caused the rise of Nazism in Germany. This argument ignores the history of post-WWI Germany and the 1918 German Revolution. One of the forces during this civil war was the Social Democratic Party of Germany which was led by a group of Jewish politicians that held strong Marxist and communist views. The SPD's revolution sparked an international conspiracy theory that the Bolshevik Revolution was also started by a secret group of Jews that were determined to take over the world through a communist uprising. It was easy for the German people, who were convinced that the Jews had created the USSR and led the German people into WWI, to blame the Jewish people for the economic struggles through harsh reparation payments and a loss of national pride. The rise of antisemitic ideologies in Germany was a response to the SPD's efforts and the Jewish conspiracy, and after the revolution there were already multiple antisemitic and fascist parties campaigning for dominance in the Weimar Republic. 

Another explanation of The Authoritarian Personality's political bias can be explained by the nature in which the research was funded. The authors of the book were working together with a group known as the "Frankfurt School of Critical Theory," which was a collective of German researchers that had fled Europe during WWII. Many in the Frankfurt School were Jewish Germans who previously conducted research at the Institute for Social Research, a predominantly Marxist school of philosophy that was terminated after Hitler's rise to power. The book was funded by the American Jewish Committee's Department of Scientific Research as a book series called "Studies in Prejudice." These were communist philosophers applying Marxist theories to psychology in order to explain how Germany could have allowed a man like Hitler to rise to power. 

In today's scientific community, the book is heavily criticized for its sampling bias, inherent political bias, and its pseudo-scientific attempt to link mental pathological symptoms with the "right wing." Sadly, as an unexpected product of the United State's national shock of the Holocaust as uncovered by the Nuremberg TrialsThe Authoritarian Personality began to shape the next two years of psychological research, and a psychologist's ability to link certain political beliefs with pathology became considered acceptable to a scientific community.  There are dozens of "scholarly articles" that go out of their way to link both conservative and liberal ideologies to various mental illnesses, yet all of them are unsound in their findings by the definition of the scientific method (which is a common trait in psychological research). 

The Authoritarian Personality is nothing but an analysis of different surveys and questionnaires. The problem with this kind of research is that there is no control, no accountability for different variables, and no ability to construct an experiment that would produce similar results. Surveys should never be used as scientific fact, since the only thing that a survey can provide for scientists is that there may be a correlation between two variables. Correlation does not mean causation. Correlation can be affected by virtually an unlimited different factors, whereas causation must provide a testable reason as to why an experiment under similar conditions will produce similar results. As an example, if there was a survey that sampled 20,000 Alaskans asking what they thought the weather was like today, the survey would not be able to prove that 99% of Americans think its too cold outside. 

If one were to account for other philosophies that came from the Frankfurt School, another incentive for writing a book such as The Authoritarian Personality arises that is far more sinister than just an innocent explanation of fascism in Nazi Germany. Herbert Marcuse was another philosopher who fled Europe during WWII and joined the Frankfurt School. In his infamous essay "Repressive Tolerance," which was released in collaboration with Robert Paul Wolff and Barrington Moor, Jr. in a collection titled A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Marcuse argued that it is morally just to eradicate opposing opinions by force. 
"Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery."
This way of though directly contradicts the theory of the free market of ideas, a philosophy that inspired classical liberals to classify the freedom of speech and expression as a fundamental human right. This belief of "intolerant tolerance" was a dominating belief throughout the Frankfurt school, and The Authoritarian Personality was written as a way to seek out individuals that could potentially think in the wrong way. To quote the book again:
"Opinions, attitudes, and values, as we conceive of them, are expressed more or less openly in words. Psychologically they are "on the surface." It must be recognized, however, that when it comes to such affect-laden questions as those concerning minority groups and current political issues, the degree of openness with which a person speaks will depend upon the situation in which he finds himself. There may be a discrepancy between what he says on a particular occasion and what he "really thinks." Let us say that what he really thinks he can express in confidential discussion with his intimates. This much, which is still relatively superficial psychologically, may still be observed directly by the psychologist if he uses appropriate techniques— and this we have attempted to do.
It is to be recognized, however, that the individual may have "secret" thoughts which he will under no circumstances reveal to anyone else if he can help it; he may have thoughts which he cannot admit to himself, and he may have thoughts which he does not express because they are so vague and ill-formed that he cannot put them into words. To gain access to these deeper trends is particularly important, for precisely here may lie the individual's potential for democratic or antidemocratic thought and action in crucial situations."
The Authoritarian Personality sought to classify not only political beliefs as formations from certain pathological factors, but also to create a way to identify and prevent potential political beliefs under the guise that these pathological factors are clear indicators of a fascist individual or a fascist individual in development.

A more modern example is to state that someone who is against gay marriage most likely suppressing his own homosexuality in fear of his father figure's infantilization and castration. Since the modern liberal considers an opposition to gay marriage as an opposition of human rights, those who are opposed to gay marriage are fascist by nature, and the cause of this fascism is a suppression of homosexual desires. This clearly cannot be the case since there have been a numerous amount of homosexuals that have infamously been against gay marriage, thus rendering the argument mute. In The Authoritarian Personality, the researchers do actually attribute suppressed homosexuality and a fear of castration from an individual's father figure as a key factor in determining the potentiality of one's fascist ideological development.

One quick note: I whole-heartedly support gay marriage, but I won't deny that there are arguments against gay marriage that are not homophobic. For example, there is a classically liberal stance which argues that there shouldn't be government involvement in marriage at all; furthermore, if the government's regulation of marriage expanded to the homosexual community, it would only allow the government's power over love to grow as opposed to fighting for no government involvement in marriage whatsoever. The Authoritarian Government would still classify this stance as homophobic even though it has little to do with a fear of homosexuals; the stance is more centered around the fear of the inherently evil government. 

So what about Gail Saltz?

"So I think what’s really fascinating is that there have been a number of recent studies looking at brain structural differences between liberals and conservatives. And what’s been found in several studies is that liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus. That is an area that is responsible for taking in new information and that impact of the new information on decision making or choices. Conservatives tended on the whole to have a larger right amygdala. Amygdala being a deeper brain structure that processes more emotional information - specifically fear based information. So it’s really responsible for the flight or fright response." 
To begin to deconstruct Gail Saltz' explanation of the physical differences between the Liberal and Conservative brain, there needs to be a little discussion about this quote. Gail Saltz is falsely assuming that a single part of the brain has only one singular job. The cingulate gyrus has many different jobs, including:
"An important part of the limbic system, the cingulate gyrus helps regulate emotions and pain. The cingulate gyrus is thought to directly drive the body's conscious response to unpleasant experiences. In addition, it is involved in fear and the prediction (and avoidance) of negative consequences and can help orient the body away from negative stimuli. Learning to avoid negative consequences is an important feature of memory."
"The anterior cingulate cortex presumptively regulates blood pressure reactions to behavioral stressors."
For the right hemisphere of the amygdala, it not only processes negative emotions, but it also plays a major role in memory:

"The right hemisphere [of the amygdala] is also linked to declarative memory, which consists of facts and information from previously experienced events and must be consciously recalled. It also plays a significant role in the retention of episodic memory. Episodic memory consists of the autobiographical aspects of memory, permitting you to recall your personal emotional and sensory experience of an event. This type of memory does not require conscious recall. The right amygdala plays a role in the association of time and places with emotional properties."
To further discredit Saltz' claim, the idea that right wing and left wing political beliefs are caused by physical differences in brain structure would require her to know two crucial things: there are only two political ideologies in the world that people associate themselves with, and that neuro-scientists actually know enough about the mechanics of the different areas of the brain to the point where they are able to find causation of certain beliefs and thought-processes. Of course, neither of these things are the case. In reality, across the globe there are vastly different political ideologies, including inside the United States. Its also important to note that neuroscience is a relatively new science, and so far there has been very little discovered when it comes to the brains mechanics. 

To go into further detail about the data from Saltz' claims, the study consisted of 82 test subjects undergoing a BOLD-fMRI scan while playing a gambling game that the researchers call "Risky-Gains." Of the 82 selected for testing, 60 were Democrats having an average of 22 years in age, and 22 were Republican having an average of 28 years in age. Women were over-represented by 57.32%, and Democrats were over-represented by 73.17%. In terms of determining ideology, the test subjects were linked to their publicly available voter histories. 

This study doesn't have a large enough or diverse enough sample size to be able to accurately depict future results using similar conditions. It downplays the roles of different factors that could have interfered with a subject's voting pattern; as an example, someone who is twenty-eight years old may have single issues related to their workplace or their specific assets, whereas someone who is twenty-two years old may either still be in college or university or may be dealing with a various number of issues that solely relate to the younger, non-college educated generation of the United States. The study is also based around the concept of risk-taking in an individual, so to say that a Liberal is more likely to accept new information and make decisions based off of said information because he is likely to have a anterior cingulate gyrus (the part of the brain that scientists believe controls the mind's processing of emotions, negative emotions and experiences such as fear, predictions based off of fear and negative emotions, blood pressure, and other possible unknown behavioral processes) because a majority of 60 liberals tested to have this trait is a very, very far reach. 

To conclude, neuro-political science and neuropolitics are pseudosciences at their very best. 

So what about Johnathan Haidt?

I may or may not go into further detail about Johnathan Haidt's TED Talk in a later post, but ultimately the post will be investigating his argument in two areas: what does he personally view as a conservative belief system and a liberal belief system, and is it really plausible to divide every person in the world into two different categories? Honestly, this way of political discussion does nothing but divide people by driving this concept that its always "left versus right" and there's no other way to view the world. This way of thought ignores an infinite number of political affiliations that don't align with modern liberalism and modern conservatism, while also leaving out the individuals that may switch based off of personal factors. 

What is the deal about these pseudoscientific "intellectuals" trying to push this false idea that when people disagree, its caused by a physical difference in their brain structure or by an environmental upbringing? Well, as I pointed out with the Frankfurt School and The Authoritarian Personality, these studies that try to pin political beliefs on physical construction or traumatizing personal events are always going to be factually unsound. The only purpose for this kind of discussion is to push an idea that American Citizens are divided not only by political ideology, but now by physical structure and social upbringing. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Clarification of Personal Beliefs

A Clarification of Personal Beliefs

I've been asked by a friend of mine to clarify some of my views of the world. After a lengthy discussion of the government, he approached me with a synopsis of how he sees my worldviews, and since his synopsis is common in those that believe in the benefits of bigger government I thought I'd respond. 

He has attacked me from five different angles, and to quote him directly his statements were;

  1. You believe money is the highest form of motivation. 
  2. You believe money determines passion and the pursuit of talent/happiness. 
  3. You have a significant mistrust of the government.
  4. You feel the government is best utilized as a militarized/police entity. 
  5. Your version of a non-evil government is one in which the military and police protect those who have from those who don't, especially in cases where access to education, healthcare, and food and water are concerned. 
In these five attacks I can already sense the Marxism and the feeling of class warfare, along with the classic bullying attacks used by those who prescribe to cultural Marxist ideologies. The first attack from those who oppose the free market and the free market of ideas is always as such; "you only care about money and don't care about the less fortunate." Of course, this is a logical fallacy since at its core it is nothing more than an ad hominem attack. I do have to give credit to my friend's points, as they only vaguely allude to the typical response; he is more concerned with how much I value money, and my fear of the government and its ability to provide for citizens through social programs. Regardless, the desire for a government controlled market is clearly underlined in these arguments.

I'm going to go through each point one-by-one and try to clarify to my beliefs to my best ability. 

1. You believe money is the highest form of motivation.

The full quote for my friends first point;

"You believe money is the highest form of motivation. You also believe that a single-payer system implies equal pay regardless of job title."

To put this in context, he and I were discussing the role of the government and its involvement in the healthcare industry. His argument is a rebuttal to my argument;

"Higher profits lead to more jobs, better products, and better salaries. Lower profits lead to less jobs, worse products, and less salaries. Although we like to think that doctors do what they do out of the good of their heart, we can't deny the fact that there would be less neurosurgeons if they were paid the same as nurses."

As a quick note: I hate when people quote themselves, so I want to state I'm only doing this to help contextualize the discussion.

I think there may be a misunderstanding from my initial response. When I said that there would be less neurosurgeons if they were paid the same as nurses, I didn't intend to suggest that a single-payer healthcare system would pay healthcare employees a constant salary. My intention was to state that if there was a true single-payer healthcare system applied to the US's current healthcare system, the salaries of neurosurgeons would fall way below market value. If the salary for neurosurgeons falls below market value, then there would be less people interested in undergoing the lengthy, challenging, and incredibly expensive process of becoming a neurosurgeon.

Different careers require different levels of investment. The most common investment is the college degree or university education. If a person spends money on a college degree, they expect to be able to get a job that pays enough so that the person can get at least an equal return of investment for their degree.

I'm going to create a hypothetical scenario to explain how jobs are valued in the market. I'll periodically link to the sources used for data collection, and to calculators I used for estimated expenses.

Jane is an 18-year-old girl from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is interested in a career in plumbulignartistry. It's her absolute passion in life, and she can't imagine herself doing anything else. She wants to attend a local private school because plumbulignology (like neurosurgery) is a specialized field of study with few renowned university programs teaching such courses, and the school conveniently has a great program in plumbulignology. Her parents make a modest living, with both family members working as elementary school teachers with $44,015 annual salaries (the average salary for a teacher in Winston-Salem is $53,794).

Jane will really need to do some deep thinking in order to decide whether or not she should take this plunge into becoming a plumbulignartist.  First, how much does her university cost? In the 2016-2017 school year, private schools charged an average of $33,480 for both tuition and school fees, so let's assume that Jane's tuition and school fees will cost a total of $133,920 for her four years of schooling. In order to be able to do such a thing, Jane will have to apply for federal student loans.

Jane goes to a FAFSA calculator to get a proper estimate of how much she will receive in federal subsidized loans.
Parent wages: Each parent makes $44,015 ($88,030 in total)
Cost of attendance (including fees): $33,480
FAFSA Expected Family Contribution: $20,758
Expected Financial Need: $12,722 a year
As once can see, FAFSA will only grant Jane with $12,722, since the government assumes that Jane's parents will be able to afford $20,758.  Sadly for Jane, the government often overestimate the Expected Family Contribution for middle class families. After tax, her parents only make $72,859.48. If we factor in health insurance ($1117.53), car insurance ($2060 for two cars), mortgage ($860), and other expenses, that number quickly falls. According to Career Trends, the cost of living for a family of three in Winston-Salem is $55,217. So, in total, Jane's parents have an extra $17,642.48 to spare on Jane's schooling.
So, since the government expects Jane's parents to pay for $20,758 of Jane's yearly tuition and fees, Jane will have to begin looking elsewhere for loans. Next, Jane calculates in how much she will receive in Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans (here we will assume that Jane will receive the maximum amounts for the sake of the hypothetical, and as a better illustration for children of middle class families). Let's do a little math and see how much debt Jane will have after graduation.

Federal Direct Subsidized Total: 
$12,722 = FFDSL (F = Freshman Year Accumulation)
$25,444 = SFDSL (S = Sophomore Year Accumulation)
$38,166 = JFDSL (J = Junior Year Accumulation)
$50,888 = GFDSL (G = Graduating Year Accumulation) 
Federal Direct Unsubsidized total:  
.0376 = b (fixed annual interest rate)
.01068 = a (for the FDUL origination fee deducted from gross amount loaned)
5,500 - 5,500a  = FFDUL
(6,500 + (F+bF)) - (6,500 + (F+bF))a = SFDUL
(7,500 + (S + bS)) - (7,500 + (S + bS))a = JFDUL
(7,500 + (J+bJ)) - (7,500 + (J + bJ))a = GFDUL
FFDUL = $5,441.26
SFDUL = $11,941.81
JFDUL = $19,678.39
GFDUL = $27,620.13 
GFDSL + GFDUL = $78,508.13

Jane has a pretty nice chunk of money set up for herself here, but she's still a little shy of the $133,920 total that she needs in order to follow her dream of becoming the greatest plumbulignartist in modern history.  Luckily for her, the school she is applying to offers a Perkins loan! Now we'll add this loan to the mix (Perkins loans are only offered to students with extreme financial need, but to understand the overall investment of a college education in terms of student loans, I've added it as one of Jane's financial resources):

Perkins Loan Total:

$5,500 = FPL
$11,000 = SPL
$16,500 = JPL
$22,000 = GPL
GFDSL + GFDUL + PL =  $100,508.13

Things are looking great for Jane, but she still needs an extra $33,411.87 to afford her degree in plumbulingnartistry. Her luck hasn't run out yet, since the school she is applying to has offered to pay the rest of the tuition in scholarship as recognition for her excellent 3.7 high school academic GPA.

Jane is so close to making her decision, but there are a couple more things she needs to investigate before she decides to cave to her desires of studying plumbulignology and plumbulignocaphry. She continues her research by calculating a good estimate of how long it will take her to pay off her loans and how much per month she'll have to pay (I used a 20 year plan, since it takes an average of 21 years for students to pay off student loan debt for a bachelor's degree, but federal student loans are forgiven after 20 years):

Payment = Initial loan[(rate/12)((1 + rate/12)^month)]/[(1 + rate/12)^month - 1]20 year repayment planFLR (federal loan rate) = .0376PLR(Perkins loan rate) = .05m (months) = 240MP stands for Monthly Payment
FDULMP = GFDUL[(FLR/12)((1 + FLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (FLR/12))^m - 1]
FDULMP = $163.90 per month for 20 years 
FDSLMP = GFDSL[(FLR/12)((1 + FLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (FLR/12))^m - 1]
FDSLMP = $307.98 per month for 20 years 
PLMP = GPL[(PLR/12)((1 + PLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (PLR/12))^m - 1]
PLMP = $145.19 per month for 20 years 
FDULMP + FDSLMP + PLMP = $617.07 per month for 20 years
$7,404 in repayments made per year
$148,096.80 in total repayments

Jane sees the number and her eyes widen. It costs a lot more to become a college educated plumbulignartist than she initially thought. She tells herself that the risk is worth the reward. She begins to estimate a salary needed to be able to pay off the loans after she graduates, especially since she'll only have nine months until her payments begin. In order to do so, she adds together her loans with the cost of living for a single adult with no children in Winston-Salem:

Annual Debt Collection = $7,404
Annual Cost of Living for Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as calculated for a single adult with no children = $29,144
$7,404 + $29,144 =  $36,548 

So this figure, $36,548, what does it mean? It means that if Jane wants the added value of a plumbulignartist's degree to at least cover the initial investment of her $148,096.80 worth of student debt, she needs to find a career that pays at least $36,548 a year. The student loans are Jane's initial investment and her cost of production, and her salary will be her marginal returns.

At this point Jane realizes that her choice is entirely dependent on what the average salary for a plumbulignartist is. As soon as she figures out what she could reasonable expect as payment for her specialized, college-educated skill, she can be confident in her choice to invest so much time and money into this career field. Jane rushes to her computer and quickly tacks away at her keyboard until she's left waiting for Google to giver her search results for the query "average plumbulignartist salary." To her dismay, Jane finds out that plumbulignartists don't make much, and in fact "plumbolignartist" is a word I made up to represent a low-paying career that requires an expensive college education (plumbum ligno is Latin for "wood pencil;" a plumbolignartist is a person that makes expensive, handmade yellow #2 wooden pencils; imagine this but it costs $400). After coming to this realization, Jane quickly sees her dreams crumble in front of her very eyes as she realizes how much it truly costs to have a specialized job with low market value. She has a choice; she can follow her dreams, even though she understands that she will live most of her life in poverty doing the work that she does, or she can pursue a degree in agriculture and do plumbulignartistry in her free time.

For generations Y, Z, and Alpha, this process of investing huge amounts of money into degrees with low market value is a major problem. For example, in 2013 bachelors' degrees in psychology were the fourth most commonly achieved by college graduates, but jobs that require psychology degrees as a prerequisite are infamously rare and underpaying. The reason for this (the over-saturation of the job market with college educated workers caused by federal financial aid) can be argued another time, but it's important to point out that while more and more students pay for a psychology degree every year, unemployment for psychology majors is on the rise. Eventually, there will come a point where students stop seeking out psychology degrees (but that depends on when our education system stops telling young kids that they won't ever be successful without a college degree regardless of what the degree's focus is).

To look at a real world example, the US is currently undergoing a severe nursing shortage. Across there country, nursing schools are having extreme difficulty motivating students to enroll in their programs, and enrollment rates having been following a general decline since 2008. The nursing industry also has an extremely high turnover rate. This study from SuccessFactors for Healthcare, Inc. states that many nurses feel overworked and under-rewarded. Since their are less nurses working in hospitals, nurses currently in the field have to pick up the slack. One of the clear defining factors that has driven the nursing shortage is the steady decline in the average salary for nurses since 2008.  Last year, the average salary earned by nurses was $61,875. If we take a look at the cost of becoming a nurse, schools that offer a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Nursing charge tuition prices anywhere from $40,000 a year to $100,000. Associate's degrees in nursing can cost even more per year ranging anywhere from $65,000 to $100,000 a year in tuition. There is an argument that there are cheaper alternatives for nurses who use community college programs to achieve their BSN's or ADN's, but the jobs available to a nurse with one of these degrees are still only worth a $66,774 annual salary. It's important to note that there are two basic types of nursing care; there's inpatient care and outpatient care. A job in outpatient care can be acquired with an ADN or a BSN, but inpatient care often requires expensive master's and even doctoral degrees in nursing that can cost even more hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nurse practitioners are generally the best paid workers in the nursing industry making around $100,000, but their job description includes attaining a BSN, gaining multiple years in the industry, pursuing a Master's of Science in Nursing, the gaining more experience, and now there is a growing push to require all nurse practitioners to achieve a doctoral degree in nursing science. Imagine having to do all of the work that a doctor or surgeon has to do, but getting paid half the price.

To wrap all of this up, I don't think that money is the highest form of motivation, but it would be ridiculous to not assume that money has some of the most powerful incentives in a person's life choices. I believe that the human race has a natural drive to succeed, and since assets and money can be measurable factors of success, it's natural for many to seek out achieving as much of it as possible.

2. You believe money determines passion and the pursuit of talent/happiness.

I believe that money helps fuel passion and the pursuit of talent/happiness. As a musician, I am constantly thinking about passive ways to make money so that I can spend more time making music. I like to think that this is how most musicians/people think. 

On the other hand, if I didn't have a passion, I wouldn't care about money. If I didn't wish to pursue talent or happiness, then I also wouldn't care about money. Even if my sole passion in this world was eating and sleeping, and my pursuit of happiness only consisted of surviving, I would have to make money in order to do so. Let's say my ideal happiness consisted of me living in the woods alone by myself surviving off of the land without the need for money; I would need money to finance the move from my home to the forest. 

3. You have a significant mistrust of the government.

My friend's complete quote; 
"You have a significant mistrust of the government, specifically the Democratic party."
Did you know that four year's before his death, the FBI tried to blackmail Martin Luther King, Jr. into killing himself?

Did you know that between 1953 and 1962, the CIA under project MK ULTRA performed illegal experiments with Lysergic acid diethylamide in an attempt to create a system of mind control? Did you know these experiments included forcing test subjects to unwillingly undergo the effects of LSD for days and weeks at a time? Did you know some experimentation included supplying doses of LSD to random subjects including fellow CIA operatives, politicians and military officials, and random American citizens? Did you know that the experiments only stopped because the CIA switched to a more powerful and more effective drug called 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ)? Did you know that the US government denied testing BZ on US citizens, but in 2010 a group of veterans provided proof that the CIA experimented on them even after project MK ULTRA was reportedly closed down?

Did you know that in 2011, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement help a successful sting operation called Project Flicker that uncovered 5,600 names involved with buying and selling child porn, with many thousands of those names being connected to the Pentagon? Did you know that the list was handed over to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the investigative branch of the pentagon, who only cross-checked 3,500 names off the list and discovered 264 of the names were that of Pentagon employee and contractors and staffers for the secretary of defense? Did you know that nine people on that list of names had top level security clearances?  Did you know that out of those 264 names, only 70 were fully investigated, and only 2 were known to have been arrested? Did you know that the DCIS stopped the investigation due to "lack of resources," and then promised to open the investigation again without ever actually doing so?

Did you know that the National Security Agency, the agency that has the power to access every webcam in the United States, repeatedly has issues with child porn being bougth, stored, and disseminated on their work computers? Did you know that one of the two arrested during the Operation Flicker scandal and cover-up was a top-secret level contractor for the NSA?

Did you know that the United States has an extensive history of funding terrorist groups to overthrow governments for profit? Did you know that the US is directly responsible for the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Did you know that many ISIS fighters are actually American citizens that have been able to fly to and from Syria to fight in the Syrian civil war without consequence?

I do have a strong distrust for the government, and everyone should. It has grown so powerful that many agencies operate with virtually no oversight whatsoever. This is only a scratch of some of the real evil our government does every day. My fear of the government is no partisan. I'm assuming my friend is alluding to the fact that I was very wary of Hillary Clinton and President Obama during the previous election. Since this subject is so entirely complicated that it would literally require 9 months' worth of writing, I would implore my friend to look at some of the summaries of the past Wikileaks releases.

I would also implore my friend to look at the "media cheat sheet" section of this blog to see how few companies there are that really control our media, and how many of them donate heavily to the Democratic party. In regards to the election, every one of those corporations tried to push an agenda that Hillary Clinton had a 90+% chance of winning the election. This should be terrifying in and of itself.

I fear any politician that pushes for more governmental power, regardless of their political status. Fear the Bush dynasty, the Clinton dynasty, and the Obama administration equally. I hate inept congress members from a bipartisan standpoint as well. I don't consider myself a Republican or a Democrat, I am only a person that believes in the necessity to conserve the government and check its growing power.

4. You feel the government is best utilized as a militarized/police entity. 

This is a classic cultural Marxist attempt to try and reframe words and project ideologies upon someone else in an attempt to discredit them. I know that my friend is implying that my view of the government is fascist by nature, but I am also very confident that as soon as I publish this my friend will deny that it was his intention. His attack is left vague on purpose, and I'm honestly tempted to give a vague answer and leave it as that.

To start, the government is militarized. Every government has a military of some sort. The initial reason behind any government is protection of its citizens. All governments in history started as a group of people paying an entity for protection.

The government exists to uphold its constitution and protect its citizens' basic human rights. If its constitution states that humans have a right to string cheese, the government is obligated to supply its citizens with cream cheese.

The only reason for a government to act outside of its constitution is to gain power. When the government acts to gain power, it is for the best interest of the government as opposed to the people. When the government acts in its own best interest as opposed to the people, we see scenarios like Flint, Michigan's water crisis occur. You have a group of people giving upwards of 40% of their income away to a government that is supposed to protect them, and they still can't even get access to something so simple as clean, drinkable water.

5. Your version of a non-evil government is one in which the military and police protect those who have from those who don't, especially in cases where access to education, healthcare, and food and water are concerned. 

My version of a non-evil government protects its citizens from criminals and foreign invaders. It doesn't "protect those who have from those who don't" because it doesn't try to regulate outside of its constitutional ability. I don't really understand this sentence at all, but it seems that my friend is telling me my non-evil government is going to protect those with healthcare from those without healthcare. What does that even mean? Are people without healthcare going to attack people with healthcare? Are the uneducated going to rise up and seize the means of production from the educated? How is the military involved with the protection of healthcare? What do the police have to do with education?

What does any of this mean?


Various Calculations and Sources used for this post (not all sources are shown below).

Perkins Loan: $5,500 a year (5% interest)

Direct Unsubsidized Loans: y1 5,500+1.068% fee, y2 6,500+1.068% fee, y3 $7,500+1.068%, y4 $7,500+1.068% fee, (3.76% annual interest)

Debt accumulated 9months after graduation----

Subsidized total: 12,722 x 4 = $50,888

Unsubsidized total:
.0376 = b (fixed annual interest rate)
.01068 = a (for the FDUL origination fee deducted from gross amount loaned)
5,500 - 5,500a  = FFDUL (for freshman)
(6,500 + (F+.bF)) - (6,500 + (F+bF))a = SFDUL (for sophomore)
(7,500 + (S + bS)) - (7,500 + (S + bS))a = JFDUL (for junior)
(7,500 + (J+bJ)) - (7,500 + (J + bJ))a = GFDUL (for graduating year)

FFDUL = $5,441.26
SFDUL = $11,941.81
JFDUL = $19,678.39
GFDUL = $27,620.13

Perkins Loan Total:

$5,500 = FPL (for freshman)
$11,000 = SPL (for sophomore)
$16,500 = JPL (for junior)
$22,000 = GPL (for graduating year)

Subsidized Total:
$12,722 = FFDSL
$25,444 = SFDSL
$38,166 = JFDSL
$50,888 = GFDSL

Total loans by graduating year:
GFSDUL + GP + GFDUL = $100,508.13

Monthly payment calculator:
Payment = Initial loan[(rate/12)((1 + rate/12)^month)]/[(1 + rate/12)^month - 1]
20 year repayment plan
FLR (federal loan rate) = .0376
PLR(Perkins loan rate) = .05
m (months) = 240

FDULMP = GFDUL[(FLR/12)((1 + FLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (FLR/12))^m - 1]
FDULMP = $163.90 per month for 20 years

FDSLMP = GFDSL[(FLR/12)((1 + FLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (FLR/12))^m - 1]
FDSLMP = $307.98 per month for 20 years

PLMP = GPL[(PLR/12)((1 + PLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (PLR/12))^m - 1]
PLMP = $145.19 per month for 20 years

FDULMP + FDSLMP + PLMP = $617.07 per month for 20 years, $148,096.80 total debt paid off

30 year loan
FLR = .0376
PLR = .05
m = 360

FDULMP = GFDUL[(FLR/12)((1 + FLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (FLR/12))^m - 1]
FDULMP = $128.07 per month for 30 years

FDSLMP = GFDSL[(FLR/12)((1 + FLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (FLR/12))^m - 1]
FDSLMP = $235.96 per month for 30 years

PLMP = GPL[(PLR/12)((1 + PLR/12)^m)]/[(1 + (PLR/12))^m - 1]
PLMP = $118.10 per month for 30 years

FDULMP + FDSLMP + PLMP = $482.13 per month for 30 years, $173,566.80 total debt paid off.

Mortgage Estimate after graduation:
Home value: $157,300
Credit Score: 630.23
Down Payment: $31,460 (20%)
Average cost of 1 bedroom apartment in Winston-Salem: $799 per month

Options with projected salary of $101,800 w/ 30 year student loan plan--
30 Year fixed: $860 per month including property taxes
20 Year fixed: $963 per month including property taxes
Options with projected salary of $101,800 w/ 20 year student loan plan--
30 Year fixed: $860 per month including property taxes
20 Year fixed: $963 per month including property taxes

Options with projected salary of $44,015 w/ 20 year student loan plan---
30 Year fixed: $860 per month including property taxes
20 Year fixed: $963 per month including property taxes
Options with projected salary of $44,015 w/ 30 year student loan plan---
30 Year fixed: $860 per month
20 Year Fixed: $963 per month including property taxes

Options with projected salary of $12,331 w/ 30 year student loan plan---
30 Year Fixed: $821 per month including property taxes
20 Year fixed: $963 per month including property taxes

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Multiple Response Post

It sounds like you want to get rid of the FDA and it's regulations. How do you feel about this?

"In any society, in any group of men, there will also be some who will try to help themselves at the expense of others. There will be some who wish to steal, or mis­represent, or resort to force. To protect peaceful productive citi­zens against those who resort to such antisocial actions, govern­ments are necessary, and very necessary."
I don't want to get rid of the FDA, but it is corrupt to the core. The FDA is necessary, but these are the people that are allowing the food industry to sell food with chemicals that cause heart disease, hair loss (be on the lookout for aspartame), and cancer (sodium nitrite). They operate with very little oversight, and they've allowed biotech companies and pharma companies to drain hospitals and health insurance companies of money, which ultimately devastates the average American citizen's chance of receiving affordable healthcare.

In all honesty I don't feel one way or another about a CEO's salary. A CEO's salary is decided by the shareholders, and the shareholders aren't going to pay a CEO that doesn't return on investment. 

If the question is "why are pharma CEO's paid much more than a normal CEO?" then we should also ask "why does a neurosurgeon make more money than a primary care physician?" The simple answer is that the personal cost of becoming a neurosurgeon makes his or her job that much more valuable. Neurosurgery is one of the hardest forms of surgery, it requires very strict testing at a university level, the fees for attending medical school for the time needed to be licensed to practice neurosurgery are in the several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it's a highly specialized form of medicinal practice in the healthcare industry that requires annual re-training to adjust for new technology and surgical practices. There are only about 3,500 neurosurgeons in the US, as opposed to over 240,000 primary care physicians. 

To quote Percy L. Greaves, Jr. from this speech-turned-article from the Foundation for Economic Education; 

"No businessman in a free mar­ket society can long pay a worker a dollar an hour and sell his prod­uct for five dollars an hour. Why not? Because you and I and thou­sands of others like us would be very happy to go into that busi­ness, pay those men two dollars and sell their product for five dollars if we could. Others would soon offer to pay them three dollars, four dollars, or even four-fifty. In fact, large corporations would be very happy to make profits of just two cents an hour for every worker they employ. They are just not able to pay them much less than the market value of their product. The last one employed would not yield them any profit, particularly in a free society where anyone who thinks he sees a chance to make a profit can come in and bid away any employee who is paid less than the market value of his contribution."

Of course, there comes a point where the employer can't compensate the worker any more than his or her current salary due to the product value of the worker's labor being too low to sustain any more of an increase. This is called the "marginal point."

"Wage rates are ultimately set by the marginal productivity of labor, that is the market value added to the product produced by the marginal em­ployee, the last man hired."
To bring all of this back to pharmaceutical companies, I want to state that the economics and business knowledge required to successfully run a pharma or biotech company far outweighs that of most large corporations. A CEO of a drug company has to be well-versed in physics, chemistry (both organic and inorganic), and general medicine, while also having the ability to understand the ever changing and incredibly complex economics of the drug industry. The Pharma CEO is the neurosurgeon of the CEO business.

The CEO also doesn't set his or her own salary. Being a CEO is a job, and just like any other, the CEO first had to apply for the position. If the shareholders then vote to hire the applicant CEO, then the CEO will negotiate his or her salary with the shareholders, and then the shareholders will vote to approve or deny the compensation. So, if an event occurs where a pharmaceutical company does decide to hike prices in a malicious attempt to steal money from citizens, the CEO would not benefit as much as some would like to think. The shareholders would initially make the most profit, and the CEO's salary raise would depend on how the shareholders vote.

When it comes to the demand of Pharma CEO's, I would argue that there is a huge demand in the market for good drug businessman, especially if we consider the rare-disease market where it can sometimes be impossible for a company to make a profit.

Basically what's going on is that there is a huge demand for drug CEO's, but a smaller supply of people who are knowledgeable enough to do the job.

It is actually quite common for individuals to evade taxes through offshore accounts-remember the huge fuss last year about the "Panama Papers?" The IRS estimates that the federal government loses $458 billion per year due to tax evasion.

Only 36 Americans out of 260,000 people were mentioned in the Panama Papers, and generally most news media outlets have questioned why there weren't more Americans pointed out in the documents. 

To answer a question with a question: Why would a wealthy individual or a large corporation set up an illegal shell company in Panama to hide legally-made dollars when it is cheaper, easier, and legal under US law and tax code to set up a shell company in the US? The US is already considered a tax haven for law-abiding citizens and corporations. When politicians talk about tax loopholes, this is one of the many that are brought up since it's almost common practice for a company to have a shell to evade taxes, form mergers, transfer large amounts of money, and etc. 

The way to solve the issue here is to close tax loopholes for corporations. One could also argue that taxes for corporations should be lowered so that they are less likely to try and evade and hide their taxes. If the corporations are less likely to hide their profits and evade taxes, they'll be more likely to invest the money back into the economy. A lot of people think that if an individual or a corporation has a lot of money, they'll lock it away and never touch it. The reality of the situation is that individuals with large amounts of money become investors, and corporations with large amounts of money grow and hire more workers while reducing prices. Regardless, only a foolish businessman would hoard his money away instead of investing it back into the market. When money is hoarded, it loses value due to inflation. If a businessman or a business wants to continue to profit, they have to invest that money somehow back into the market so they can make profitable returns on their investments.

I would argue that the US's economy is not at the point where it can support a tax cut for corporations, but that's because I'm interested to see how many taxes the federal government will bring in after tax loopholes are eliminated. 

In regards to pharmaceutical companies leaving the country: where would they go? Any country with a population that MIGHT be able to afford these prices already has a free healthcare system in place. Where is this mythical second America that could be their new profit frontier? I think prices are high because we allow them to be high. If we begin buying in bulk from countries that charge less for the same conceptual prescriptions, we can drive down ridiculous American-exclusive prices, therby changing the functionality of lobbyists and the pharmaceutical industries' influence in congress. 

I'm going to have to respond to this one in two parts;

Part 1: In regards to pharmaceutical companies leaving the country: where would they go? Any country with a population that MIGHT be able to afford these prices already has a free healthcare system in place. 

I don't think I said the Pharma giants were going to leave the country. Most pharma companies already sell their drugs on the global market, the only problem is they have to undergo a separate approval process that's similar to the FDA. The difference between the FDA's and every other country's approval process is that the FDA's regulations are the most expensive to uphold in the world. That's why the US has the highest drug prices. 

To give a perspective, this is a list of all of the countries that Pfizer operates in;

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany 
  • Greece
  • Honk Kong
  • Hungary
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Malaysia
  • Mexico
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • Spain 
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Venezuela
In regards to free healthcare systems, those countries also have lower restrictions, and usually the drug has to pass through a review board which helps lower prices. For example in Canada, the Canadian health ministry, Health Canada, requires each experimental drug seeking to be placed on the market to pass through a drug review board to test its efficacy and it's relationship to other drugs already out on the market. After this process, the doctors that work for Canada's free healthcare system are allowed to choose which drugs to prescribe based off of the results from the board's review. 

To compare this system to the FDA's approval process, I'll quote Dr. Aaron Kesselheim from this CNN article/interview;

"...we [the US] don't have a central agency, governmental or NGO (non-governmental organization) that engages in comparative research that comes up with clear statements of drugs efficacies"
So to bring this quote into perspective, all of the regulations that the FDA places on experimental drug research and development still don't guarantee the US public that they are getting an effective product. The regulations are for the research and post-approval studies, but the overall efficiency could be entirely secretive if the company wanted it so. What can make matters worse is the patent system; since a new drug on the market is protected under patent laws for the next 20 years, doctors may have no other choice but to prescribe this new drug, and they'll have no way of knowing if this new drug is the most efficient that technology can offer, or if it's just the only molecule that managed to get past the FDA's incompetent and inconsistent approval process. 

Unfortunately, some pharma companies have actually lied about research results, and since there is no review process for an INDA approval, sometimes nothing will happen to the company or the drug for many years. Just like how it takes several years for the FDA to review and approve INDA's, it can take even longer to pass legislation to ban dangerous pharmaceuticals from the market. The FDA's initial, and most of the time singular, response to drugs on the market that are reporting severe side effects is to add a warning label. That's why we see TV ads for antidepressants that say, "Warning, may cause thoughts of suicide." 

Accutane is a famous example of what can go wrong when there is no consumer review process for a new product on the market. Accutane was a medicine designed to treat severe acne, and it was created by Roche and approved by the FDA in 1982. From the introduction of Accutane to the year 2002, over 23,000 sever side effects were reported which include but are not limited to: inflammatory bowel disease; ulcerative colitis; crohn's disease; hair loss; depression; birth defects; induced abortion; and more. By 2002, there were 172 suicides attributed to Accutane; additionally, there were 172 children born with anomalies or congenital defects where the mother had been prescribed Accutane while pregnant. The glorious FDA began to help protect citizens by forcing the company to place over 3,000 words of warning labels on the product, but Accutane wasn't removed from the market until 2007 after a number of public lawsuits granted victims of Accutane's side effects dozens of millions of dollars. Just to clarify, Accutane wasn't removed from the market by the FDA; it was removed by Roche as a reaction to public backlash. It was on the market for twenty-five years. 

To see more results of a government organization that has removed the power to review a product from the consumer, this article from DrugWatch goes into detail on other infamous drugs that had to be pulled from the market. 

Part 2: I think prices are high because we allow them to be high. If we begin buying in bulk from countries that charge less for the same conceptual prescriptions, we can drive down ridiculous American-exclusive prices, thereby changing the functionality of lobbyists and the pharmaceutical industries influence in congress.

So for this, I'm going to break it down sentence-by-sentence, because for some of it I agree with you and for some of it I don't agree with you.

"I think prices are high because we allow them to be high"
Yes you are absolutely right. Even though drug companies heavily lobby the government, we are the people that vote in congressman that pass laws that have allowed us to get where we are. At the end of the day the blame of expensive healthcare can ultimately be placed upon every person that voted for a political candidate that promised lower healthcare costs through heavier regulations; furthermore, the blame should also be placed upon every person that voted again for one of these candidates or continues to vote for these candidates, even while healthcare costs continue to skyrocket.

"If we begin buying in bulk from countries that charge less for the same conceptual prescriptions, we can drive down ridiculous American-exclusive prices..."
The FDA will not allow this. I'm assuming that the term "same conceptual prescription" refers to drugs that are made of the same chemical but are branded under a different name. If this were the case, the FDA would not allow imported drugs due to their patent laws. Just as a reminder, a drug patent doesn't just cover the chemical compound of the drug; it also covers the intended use of the drug and its expected treatment regimen. To bring up a past example, the Viagra patent covers the use of Sildenafil to treat erectile dysfunction, and the Revatio patent covers the use of Sildenafil to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension. As a hypothetical, if a drug company in Canada had successfully developed a form of Sildenafil for treatment of cardiovascular disease, it won't be able to sell their drug in the US until the Revatio patent expires.

Another problem would be the issue of exclusivity. Exclusivity can be granted to drugs by the FDA to delay and prohibit competing ANDA's from being developed, approved, or sold on the market for a certain period of time. The FDA grants exclusivity to drug companies to reduce competition and keep prices high so that Pharmaceutical companies can turn a profit off of the expensive process of either developing a successful INDA or ANDA. This is absolutely nuts. If you really are looking for a headache, a foreign company won't be able to sell its drug in the US until it is approved as an INDA or ANDA and the standard regulatory post-approval studies are set in place, which as a reminder can cost several billion dollars and take several years. And even if a foreign company is prepared to do this, they could be stopped by a period of exclusivity granted by a corrupt FDA member. I want to reflect back on one of the earlier blog posts I made where I said the FDA has allowed pharmaceutical companies to create a drug monopoly.

"...thereby changing the functionality of lobbyists and the pharmaceutical industries influence in congress."
This is both bad and good. Pfizer was ranked 23rd in major political lobbying, and during the recent election cycle it was ranked 161st in campaign contributions (top recipient being Hillary Clinton) with an amount of $769 million, as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. There are 67 lobbyists that are subsidiaries of Pfizer, and 48 of them have previously held government office. Obviously this is bad news. The best defense that I personally could come up with for Pfizer's lobbying practices is this; they would have to continue lobbying in order to be granted certain exclusivities and regulatory freedoms to cut costs. Of course, for Pfizer, this is not such a great argument since they are one of the most profitable businesses in the world. For smaller drug companies or companies that are working in the rare disease market, lobbying could be what makes or breaks a revolutionary cure for a rare disease's chance of getting to sick patients. 

To fix this, the US needs major reforms in FDA standards and regulations and a strict investigation/audit of the FDA and its employees along with a temporary (or permanent) congressional lobbying ban. A single payer healthcare system would only be throwing more money at the problem. 

How do you feel about studies like this?

This question is asking me to go into a long discussion about economics, and this post is already getting long enough. The shortest answer is that this study perfectly explains what is driving up health insurance costs. Private health insurance companies historically have negotiated prices for hospital services, but in the case of Medicare the federal government has pre-set their own prices for services. Medicare is bound to these prices, and it is illegal for Medicare to try and negotiate a price with a hospital. As the study shows, the prices that Medicare pays is much lower than what the average American pays, while private insurances vary on prices for something like an MRI scan by a factor of three. 

If there is a group of people purchasing a product from a company at a reduced price, the company will lose profit. In order to keep profit margins on track, the company will have to adjust prices for the average consumer to make up for the expected revenue loss. Medicare pays less per service, and therefore the private insurance companies pay more.