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Are “Free markets” necessarily free?

8 April 2013

While that’s not particularly the subject of the recent post on Tim’s El Salvador Blog, a recent, unheralded (except by Tim, as far as I can tell) event in the Central American nation does make one wonder about the “freedom” of free markets.

Under the General Medicine Law, approved at the Legislative Assembly in February, prices for at least 6,200 medicines will be reduced by a minimum of 30%, and up to 60% for those most often prescribed, reports Prensa Latina.

El Salvador is currently considered one of the countries with the most expensive medication worldwide.

Low income groups and left wing political party Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front support the legislation, but domestic pharmaceutical groups claim the law is a violation of the right to economic freedom for drug companies.

According to activist organisation the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, transnational companies such as Pfizer and the local pharmacies that carry its products have threatened to abandon the Salvadoran market, citing the law.

Approval of the policy was also a severe blow to former Nationalist Re[pu]blican Alliance party President Alfedo Cristiani, who owns domestic pharmaceutical company Droguería Santa Lucía.

With the death of one of the great champions of the individualist “free market” in the news, perhaps it’s time to ask whether “freedom” can be defined in purely market terms… and that if we do chose to define “freedom” in economic terms, whether or not the economy needs to concern itself with the people as a whole, or with those who invest their money in an enterprise… and if the enterprise itself is in the interest (economic or otherwise) of the people.

In the crudest terms, healthy Salvadorians are “worth” more than sick ones, and even those who rely on medication, if they are spending less on pharmaceuticals, presumably have more money available for other purchases.

Is there economic freedom  when “free markets” limit economic ability?


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