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Good Morning

Cue the music

Some more bad news on the research front.  Earlier this week, Merck laid off a number of employees from the parent company and Schering-Plough, the company it merged with a couple years ago.  I can’t find a firm number for the total layoffs.  In some reports, it’s 17,000, in others it is 17,000 plus an additional 13,000.  That’s worldwide.  And while Merck has something like 91,000 employees worldwide, when it comes to laying off research, it comes primarily from the US side because American research workers have zero labor protections.  I would expect the loss from Western European research facilities to be light.  Estimated cost savings are $400 million out of a budget of $7.9 billion.  That is a huge research budget but that’s what it takes these days.  Drug discovery is very expensive.  Merck and Schering-Plough have facilities in the Northeast, particularly in Rahway, NJ, West Point, PA and Kennilworth, NJ.  Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline says he is getting heavy casualty reports in from the research professionals at Schering Plough (Kennilworth).  I know people who work at both companies and I’m very sad for them.  This is not a good time to be untethered from a steady income.  I hope they’ve prepared themselves.  The loss to the states of NJ and PA in tax revenue from cutting these well-paying jobs is going to be pretty bad.  So, this month we have Novartis, Amgen and Merck-Schering-Plough.  Wait, wasn’t there another one?  Too many to keep track of.  And more competition for me.  Well, I am in good company.  Some of the smartest people in the country, no, the *world* are now out of work.

Jay Ackroyd thinks that the desire to globalize is driving this and calling it “centrism”.  Jay’s anger and disgust is pretty clear but coming from the corporate world that most lefties hate, hate, HATE with all their souls, I see this a little differently.  For example, take the way Steve Jobs was pushed out of Apple back in the 80’s.  I’m listening to the biography by Walter Isaacson.  Jobs was no saint.  Back in the 80s, he was the heartless boss from hell.  I guess you could chalk that up to youthful immaturity but when the precariousness of his position at Apple hit him, he got a sense of how companies would work in the future.  John Sculley, the president Jobs hired to run Apple, was a marketing guy.  He didn’t understand the product he was manufacturing.  He wanted to spin off the creative part of Apple to a unit called Apple Labs, that would be run by Jobs.  It was a way to get rid of Jobs and his loyal creative types who wanted to act like pirates.  Sculley wanted employees to put Apple, the company, first.  People like Jobs wanted to put the product first.  It’s too bad that he acted like such an obnoxious, insulting immature brat because Jobs was right.  Most companies have followed the Sculley route.  They put sales and marketing and making money first.  And that’s what companies are for, to make money.  You’d have to be stupid if you had any altruistic aspirations for having a company.  But what marketing people fail to see is that without a product, you have nothing to sell.  If you short your R&D division, you’ll be cutting your own throat. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen.  And then you’ll be busily eating your seed corn to make those quarterly earnings, like Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, Amgen…  After Jobs grew up a bit and came back to Apple, he put the focus back on innovative products and now, the company is the most profitable in the world.

So what does this have to do with Ackroyd’s piece?  Well, if pharma is any indication of what is really going on, globalization is a fad.  That’s what the business people do.  They chase fads and trends.  They rarely follow up on their initial enthusiasm to see if the fads actually add to their bottom lines.  It’s the initial savings that they care about because that’s immediate, it’s quarterly and they think better in 3 month increments.  Pharma went through a period of mergers and acquisitions that did nothing for research and only enriched executives’ pockets.  But there have been other fads, like combinatorial chemistry, proteomics, siRNA, and genomics.  None of them turned out to be the panacea the Sculley class was looking for because the nature of biology is such that these technologies were just tools that we used to dig up more problems to solve.  They were never intended to be solutions all by themselves.  The newest fad is to relocate all of research (or what is left) in the bay areas, Cambridge,MA and San Francisco and San Diego, CA.  Presumably, the smartest people in the world graduate from MIT and Harvard and Stanford and UCSD.  That may be true.  But it may also be the case that only the wealthy and well connected can get into those schools anymore.  It also ignores the fact that for years, biomedical researchers came from all over the country, prestigious and unprestigious schools alike.  I’ve known excellent researchers who graduated from schools in Indiana, Colorado, New Jersey and Louisiana.  But this idea of educational exclusivity and capturing the elite is the new fad.  They will do the brain work and the hands on stuff will be carried out by a bunch of drones in China and India.  The corporate guys are marketing and sales and business school guys.  They think research and innovation can be broken down to a list of mind numbing chores and “just in time” off the shelf solutions while the “better people”, people like them in their social class, are graduating from ivy league schools and those people have the natural talent to manage the innovation process.  The corporation will take the profits gained by outsourcing.

And they are following this course of action and business not because it is good for the companies they serve but because they can.  The rules don’t apply to them anymore.  I’m not sure the goal was always globalization but now that there’s nothing to stop them, that’s what they’re going to do even if it ruins the product line.  The Sculleys of this world do not understand what motivates people who do research and who are inspired to innovate.  Here’s a clue: the most profitable product line of the world was designed by a college drop out and his rag tag bunch of unorthodox pirates who were left to their own devices.

So, Jay, I wouldn’t worry too much about the desire to globalize.  At some point, the grasshoppers will stop eating their seed corn because there will be nothing left, the big corporations you hate will find themselves smaller and their research divisions located in Western Europe and the fascination for the elite universities will be tempered by the reality that real innovation takes time and dedication and getting the right people *together* in one place.  At some point, the researchers in China and India will get fed up with studying hard for years only to be treated like cheap assembly line workers by the Sculley class.  It would also help if lefties took some time to understand pharma so they would stop contributing to the demise of biomedical research through bone headed ignorance.  But that’s another post.  Yeah, it may mean that the innovation infrastructure of the US is decimated.  But I wouldn’t be looking for meaning in any of this.  Think of it like water flowing in the path of least resistance.  There’s nothing intelligent about this, as in sentient beings planning to gut their product lines for the sake of a quick buck.  There’s no giant conspiracy to globalize.  It’s happening because we allowed it to happen.

When we block the path to a quick buck at the middle class’ expense, it will stop.  And we know this is possible because there are countries where the government has protected their innovative infrastructure.  When the dust settles and the corporations come to their senses, it will be the middle class in places like Germany and France who will be able to carry on.  If we want to be one of those countries, we have to decide that we want to reimpose the rules.  There’s no need to over analyze.  But I would like to point out that saving innovation here does not mean that we as a country will not be taking advantage of cheap labor elsewhere.  As Nucky Thompson says, “We all need to decide how much sin we can live with.”

In other news, if the election were held today, guess which politician would have the best chance of beating the Republicans?  It’s Hillary.  Yep, sorry lefties who hate Hillary, in a recent Time Magazine poll she beats the Republicans by larger margins than Obama does and she’s not even in the race (yet):

A national poll conducted for TIME on Oct. 9 and 10 found that if Clinton were the Democratic nominee for President in 2012, she would best Mitt Romney 55% to 38%, Rick Perry 58% to 32% and Herman Cain 56% to 34% among likely voters in a general election. The same poll found that President Obama would edge Romney by just 46% to 43%, Perry by 50% to 38% and Cain by 49% to 37% among likely voters.

Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2011/10/27/hillary-clinton-and-the-limits-of-power/#ixzz1cBO8BDMj

It always amuses me when the left starts to hyperventilate about the prospect of a Republican president next year and how evil that would be.  But when you give them a perfectly acceptable alternative of someone with a lot of experience, who is excelling in foreign policy, runs a global executive branch and has been able to stay away from domestic issues to emerge fresh as a rose, while being widely admired by world leaders and voters of both parties, they flinch when it turns out to be Hillary.  Apparently, they are MORE afraid of Hillary Clinton in the White House than Mitt Romney or Herman Cain or, gawd help us, Governor Rick “Good Hair” Perry.

No?  That’s not how it is?  There’s something I’m missing?  Oh, her Iraq War Resolution vote.  Yeah, she single handedly brought on the Iraq War.  Of all 99 senators who voted for that POS in 2003, HER vote counted more than anyone elses.  It was even more powerful than John Edwards’ IRW vote.  It had to be because the left was perfectly happy to forgive and forget that reckless phony.

I can just see them gearing up to spew some anti Hillary hatespiel.  No, no, save your breath.  No one cares what you think of Hillary anymore.  Your opinions are not more important than the rest of the electorate.  She should have her opportunity because the Democrats don’t really have anyone better, not even Obama.  No one is entitled to a second term.

But if you get stuck with a Republican in November 2012, you have no one to blame but yourselves.  Hillary wins over all of them, you passed anyway.