30 April, 2007

Non-monetary motivation

I am having a cold sore these days, so I have a great chance to think about why don't we have a cure for herpes yet. Just as there's no cure for many things, but lots of fairly effective treatments.

Certainly, our understanding of how our bodies work is limited, and probably never will be complete, but it would appear that -- and I'm certainly not the first one to notice -- there's less incentive to search for cures. Because, obviously, if you cure an ailment, you're shrinking your own market (you may end up eliminating the disease altogether!), while a good treatment provides you with a profit forever. Therefore, those who actually can find cures -- pharmaceutical companies -- benefit more from providing treatments, rather than cures, because, just as any corporation, they are in a business of making money.

So it appears that while monetary rewards do work great for us (the humanity) in some areas (see how cooler our cell phones are getting every year!), maximizing the profit may sometimes take you into a direction opposite to the one that the common good might suggest.

Obviously, this is something governments should regulate, and it is equally obvious that modern "donation"-based governments would never do that. Interestingly, this particular case does not actually require much intervention. A wise monarch would solve the issue with a single edict, something like: "No healthy person should be in the board of directors in a pharmaceutical company". And let the market take care of things ;)

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