Book review: the American love affair with opioids, accelerated by McKinsey

Loyal readers may remember a review here of a book by a Los Angeles Times reporter on America’s taxpayer-fueled heroin habit (see Who funded America’s opiate epidemic? You did.). Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty covers the same story from the angle of the family behind OxyContin. The Sacklers, whose names adorn university and art museum buildings throughout the U.S. and Europe, have been convenient scapegoats, but it turns out that they didn’t do it alone. Some things that I learned from the book…

Arthur M. Sackler, the patriarch, died before OxyContin was invented (the slow-release coating was actually the invention of a British company that had been acquired by the Sacklers’ sleepy Purdue Pharma and was used originally for morphine pills called “MS Contin”). He was the significant art collector and benefactor of AOC’s party venue at the Metropolitan Museum (how did it cost $587 for a car ride from the Bronx to the Upper East Side?). With the help of some friendly bureaucrats at the FDA, who would go on to be of much greater assistance to his brothers’ company Purdue, he pushed the limits of what was legal/ethical in medical advertising, especially for Valium and Librium, but museums are still happy to display the name of Hoffmann-La Roche, which actually made the drugs.

The book describes McKinsey, “The firm that built the house of Enron”, working to help Purdue Pharma increase sales of OxyContin even after the company and three executives had pleaded guilty to federal crimes regarding claims made regarding the drug. McKinsey’s biggest idea, according to the author, was that Purdue Pharma’s salespeople should make more frequent calls on the doctors who were the biggest prescribers, i.e., the “pill mills” such as Eleanor Santiago‘s (1 million pills, which resulted in a 20-month prison sentence for the physician). McKinsey also consulted for Johnson & Johnson, the author says, to help them push more opioids out to consumers. (See “Behind the Scenes, McKinsey Guided Companies at the Center of the Opioid Crisis” (NYT 2022))

Speaking of Johnson & Johnson, they owned a division in Tasmania where all of the poppies were grown to enable the production of OxyContin and competitive opioid pills from Janssen (J&J’s pharma subsidiary, now famous for its never-FDA-approved one-shot COVID vaccine) and other companies (in-depth background). The Federal DEA was also complicit in allowing a massive increase in the import quota for this critical raw material.

The author describes Mary Jo White, later appointed by Barack Obama to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, as instrumental in weakening the government’s efforts to punish Purdue, which was owned entirely by the Sacklers (not, however, by any of Arthur M’s descendants or cash-hungry former wives, “the Valium Sacklers” as opposed to the “OxyContin Sacklers”).

Consistent with Dreamland, the book previously reviewed here, Empire of Pain says that it was common for people to transition from Oxy to heroin sold by migrants from Nayarit, Mexico and that, in fact, 80 percent of heroin overdoses were among people who’d previously been prescribed OxyContin. (See also “From Nayarit to Your Neighborhood: Heroin’s Path to a Ready Local Market”.)

The book supports the heritability of success theory advanced in The Son Also Rises: economics history with everyday applications. Even after a couple of generations that could have succumbed to idleness, the Sackler descendants are reasonably hard-working and successful. Madeleine Sackler, for example, has been successful as a filmmaker (ironically, a couple of them are about life in prison, which is not unrelated to the drug that has funded her lifestyle).

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty is timely given that a lot of our American brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters were just paid $600/week to stay home for two years and consume drugs and alcohol (this Senate document says there was a 30 percent increase in overdose deaths, but blames the “pandemic” rather than the “lockdown”). The antiracism experts at Mass General say that heavy drinking increased by 21 percent during lockdown.

If nothing else, reading the book will make you cautious about taking that first bottle of painkillers that a doctor prescribes!

The author is a New Yorker writer and he asserts as fact that HIV/AIDS would have been a solved problem if Republicans had not blocked federal funding for research into a cure for this disease (yet SARS-CoV-2 continues to kill steadily despite literally $trillions in tax money that has been thrown at it; see Did vaccines or any other intervention slow down COVID?). He also asserts as fact that if Purdue Pharma was liable for opioid-related deaths then gun manufacturers are obviously liable for shooting deaths (never mentioning that the gun manufacturers have always been quite candid about the lethality of guns/bullets and that the theory of liability for the opioid industry is that the companies lied to Americans about heroin-style drugs not being addictive/harmful).

Loosely related… the Temple of Dendur at the Met, in what used to be called “The Sackler Wing” (funded by Arthur M, blameless in the OxyContin debacle), “temporarily closed” in June 2021 for coronapanic:

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Silicon Valley experts on gender equity and money have a $175 billion bank failure

Folks at Facebook like to lecture others, sometimes via software, regarding gender equity. What happens inside their own company? “Meta has a pay gap problem, with women abroad getting lower pay and smaller bonuses than men” (Business Insider):

The company, formerly known as Facebook, continues to pay women less than men, whether they’re hourly workers or on salary, according to Meta’s most recently available reports on pay inequity in the UK and Ireland. The company also hands women smaller bonuses, the reports said.

The report on Meta’s pay gap in Ireland is the most recent, having been released quietly in December as part of a new law in the country that went into effect last year. In 2022, women working for Meta in Ireland were paid 15.7% less on average than men at the company. The difference in bonus pay in the country is even larger, with the average bonus for women being 43.3% lower than those that go to men.

For women working at Meta in the UK, where the company operates out of London, the pay gap is smaller but still prevalent, according to a report from last year detailing pay data from 2021. The average woman there was paid 2.1% less than the average man. And again, the difference in bonuses is much starker, with the average bonus going to women being 34.8% less than bonuses paid to men.

The lords of Silicon Valley are also fond of reminding the peasants how much smarter they are about money, even as many venture capital firms there underperform the S&P 500 (HBR 2014; a 2019 article). What about something simple like running a bank? With about $200 billion in deposits to protect, Silicon Valley Bank made a big bet that the Vanquisher of Corn Pop wouldn’t set off hyperinflation. The bank bought long-term Treasury bonds. When Bidenflation took off, the value of these bonds collapsed. From “What’s Going on With Silicon Valley Bank?” (WSJ):

SVB Financial bought tens of billions of dollars of seemingly safe assets, primarily longer-term U.S. Treasurys and government-backed mortgage securities. SVB’s securities portfolio rose from about $27 billion in the first quarter of 2020 to around $128 billion by the end of 2021.

These securities are at virtually no risk of defaulting. But they pay fixed interest rates for many years. That isn’t necessarily a problem, unless the bank suddenly needs to sell the securities. Because market interest rates have moved so much higher, those securities are suddenly worth less on the open market than they are valued at on the bank’s books. As a result, they could only be sold at a loss.

Many of the bank’s deposits are sizable enough that they don’t carry Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. protection. SVB said it estimates that at the end of 2022 the amount of deposits in its U.S. offices that exceed the FDIC insurance limit was $151.5 billion.

Before it disappears, let’s have a look at their home page:

Certainly nobody can accuse them of failure to represent a diversity of hairstyles.

What can you do to protect yourself in case some other banks were overconfident regarding our current rulers and their Borrow-and-Spend-Like-Drug-Dealers economic policy? Move money that is in cash into mutual funds or common stocks. The bank is just a custodian for these assets and if the bank fails you’re still a shareholder at the same level. If you must have cash of more than $250,000, spread it among multiple banks.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this failed bank. It seems that they too might have built a culture of equity by underpaying a group of employees unified by a gender ID:

They were experts on “sustainable finance” whose own enterprise just happened not to be sustainable.


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Celebrating Black people, but not hiring any

Here’s a pharma company that celebrates Black women:

The executive team, according to the company’s “Our People” page:

Maybe there are some Black employees just below the “executive “leadership” level?

It looks as though the top of the “people” page is a stock photo that includes a Black woman. The office building in which these non-Asian stock photo models are assembled has exposed brick walls. Below this is a photo of some actual employees. The walls are painted sheetrock and the workforce has a decidedly different skin color distribution compared to the stock photo models:


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Examples of our apartheid economy?

We’re a third of the way through Black History Month. Let’s check in with the voluntary apartheid economy that Americans have set up.

An email from Tripadvisor in which we are urged to “eat, stay, and shop” only at enterprises owned by people who identify as part of a particular race:

Oprah reminds us to “Celebrate Black History Month by Supporting These Black-Owned Businesses”:

There’s never been a better time to put your money where your mouth is. … Here, we’ve rounded up a selection of 55 Black-owned businesses online that the team here at Oprah Daily recommends—including in the beauty, food and drink, fashion, and home decor categories. These thoughtfully curated selections are nothing short of stunning, so you’ll want have your wallet ready. Supporting them is something you can do all year long.

Want to watch some TV on Amazon Prime? The top option is a section segregated to one skin color:

How about HBO Max? The opening screen:

The NBA wants us to eat at restaurants owned by people identifying as part of one race… “10 Black-owned restaurants in every NBA city”.

Throughout the month of February, we will be spotlighting 10 Black-owned restaurants in every city with an NBA team. This initiative aligns with the league’s commitment to broader diversity and inclusion efforts in the communities where we work and live.

What if you get fat in your tour of these restaurants? “15 Black-Owned Businesses in Health and Wellness to Support During Black History Month and Always” (ET). (Just remember that you can be healthy at any size and that obesity is definitely not a risk factor for COVID-19 that would be worth addressing.)

Readers: What are you seeing in terms of voluntary apartheid? (Official race-based programs, such as in government contracting or hiring, do not count.)


  • “Abolish the White Race” (Harvard Magazine, Sept/Oct 2002): “The goal of abolishing the white race is on its face so desirable that some may find it hard to believe that it could incur any opposition other than from committed white supremacists.”
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The victim who attended private school while dad worked at Goldman

“How Charlie Javice Got JPMorgan to Pay $175 Million for … What Exactly” (NYT, January 21) gives us a window into the thinking of America’s best journalists and also the folks who say that they can beat the S&P 500 with their investment acumen. NYT:

When JPMorgan Chase paid $175 million to acquire a college financial planning company called Frank in September 2021, it heralded the “unique opportunity for deeper engagement” with the five million students Frank worked with at more than 6,000 American institutions of higher education.

“To cash in, Javice decided to lie,” the suit said. “Including lying about Frank’s success, Frank’s size and the depth of Frank’s market penetration.” Ms. Javice, through her lawyer, has said the bank’s claims are untrue.

JPMorgan’s legal filing reads like pulp nonfiction, with jaw-dropping accusations. Among them: that Ms. Javice and Olivier Amar, Frank’s chief growth and acquisition officer, faked their customer list and hired a data science professor to help pull the wool over the eyes of the bank’s due-diligence team.

When Frank was born, in 2016, Ms. Javice was 24 years old, displayed great media savvy and claimed to have real-world experience with financial aid and the struggle to pay for college. “It’s grueling, it’s emotional,” she told The Daily Pennsylvanian, a student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, adding that her mother would frequently cry while talking to financial aid officers.

Ms. Javice’s personal story — and pledge to cut through the painful thicket of government forms, jargon and regulations surrounding the aid process — must have made compelling reading for angel investors and venture capitalists. Especially those who have little firsthand knowledge of how financial aid actually works.

Ms. Javice’s career helping others began, in her telling, on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. She spent time volunteering there one summer, between terms at her private high school in Westchester County, N.Y.

Ms. Javice has said she needed help herself while she was an undergraduate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she quickly drew notice by appearing on Fast Company’s 2011 list of the 100 most creative people in business.

There, she was on financial aid, and she found the forms confusing. So did her parents, according to an interview she gave to Diversity Woman magazine — including her father, Didier, who has worked on Wall Street for more than 35 years, with 11 years at Goldman Sachs and three at Merrill Lynch, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Ms. Javice appeared on the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 finance list. Then she made the Crain’s New York Business 40 Under 40 list. “Javice has done her homework,” the Crain’s article said.

In other words, the smartest people at Penn, in American business journalism, and on Wall Street accepted that someone who attended “private high school” while Dad worked at Goldman was a rags-to-riches heroine and a member of two victimhood classes: women and poor people.

(Separately, can the New York Times sue Diversity Woman magazine for trademark infringement?


  • Equity Funding fraud, in which Californians with a mainframe computer generated fictitious insurance policies (movie version stars suppressed-on-Twitter coronaheretic James Woods!); a good reminder that California was famous for fraud before it became famous for righteousness, lockdowns, school closures, mask orders, vaccine papers checks, and homeless encampments!
  • “Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet” (from the big Harvard MBA brains at Boston Consulting Group) says that all you need to do to outperform the S&P 500 is invest in female-founded companies such as Ms. Javice’s: “businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men”
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What percentage of workers at your company aren’t worth having even at $0/year?

A friend is a mid-level manager at one of the FAANG companies that enforces religious orthodoxy here in the U.S., e.g., by deplatforming those who fail to respect the rainbow flag. She expressed dismay that her division was being trimmed by 20 percent in order to shore up profits. I asked “What percentage of the people you work with aren’t worth having around even at a $0 salary because they’re either unproductive, annoying, or both?” She thought for a few moments and then answered “About 20 percent.”

So maybe the slim-down in the tech industry won’t change much.

Readers: What percentage of folks would you get rid of at your company even if these people were available at no cost to the company?


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Non-profit versus for-profit in the power restoration Olympics

“Governor DeSantis Calls on Lee County Electric Cooperative to Accept Additional Mutual Aid to Expedite Power Restoration” (Saturday):

At this time, Florida Power and Light (FPL) has restored power to more than 45% of their accounts in Lee County, while LCEC has only restored power to 9% of their accounts (18,000 out of 183,000 customers).

Florida Power and Light is the Evil Empire of Electricity in Florida, a for-profit regulated monopoly.

What about LCEC?

LCEC is one of more than 850 not-for-profit electric distribution cooperatives located throughout 46 states and serving 75 percent of land mass in the nation. Cooperatives are in business to serve members at the cost of service. This business model is different from investor-owned utilities, which typically share profits with investors globally.

It seems as though the profit-seekers invested substantially more in resiliency than the non-profit folks.

Sunday morning: LCEC had 177,105 out of 199,097 customers tracked (11 percent on; note the inconsistency in total Lee County customers with the 183,000 figure above).

FPL had 132,930 out from among 288,630 in Lee County (54 percent on).

On Monday morning, the outage site still showed roughly the same number out: 177,369 out of 199,097 in Lee County. Either LCEC made no progress at all in 24 hours or we are seeing #FakeNews on the site (someone’s computer system is broken?). Over the same roughly 24-hour period, FPL had reduced its Lee County outages from 132,930 to 100,220. I checked Twitter and found the following update from LCEC:

The power outage site shows 184,751 LCEC customers out across all locations.


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When the going gets tough, send in the Chief Diversity Officer

This summer we stayed in a hotel that was hosting a Knanaya Catholic Congress of North America convention. There were some very fine people attending the KCCNA convention, but others couldn’t resist partying until 4 or 5 am in the hallway outside our room and there were elevator issues. I decided to see if there was a way to contact Marriott’s “unhappy customer” line. Here’s the “Customer Care” section of the Bonvoy app:

What is the #1 concern of a hotel guest who requests “care”? “Where Can I Find Information on Diversity & Inclusion?”

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Some interesting numbers about container shipping

“The Hidden Costs of Containerization” (,m February 2022) was recently emailed to me by a reader. It contains some fascinating numbers:

According to data from the Marine Exchange of Southern California, as of the first week of January, there were 105 container ships backed up outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, by far the busiest ports in the United States. There was more cargo in the water offshore than the ports processed in all of November. Across the world, nearly 400 container vessels have piled up outside U.S. and Chinese ports, carrying 2.4 million containers.

But why? If factory output is lower due to shortages and coronapanic shutdowns, shouldn’t we actually expect there to be a smaller number of containers going through the ports and no backlog at all?

By contrast, the crisis’s big winners are the nine ocean carrier companies controlling 80 percent of global shipping, which are raking in so much money that they have no reason to fix the problems and end Valeriano’s virtual imprisonment. The price of shipping a 40-foot container from China to the United States was once around $2,000. By August, it had soared to a record $20,000, a tenfold increase. By January, rates receded, but only to around $14,000, still enough to produce incredible profits for a concentrated industry. Shippers earned $25 billion in 2020; research consultant Drewry predicted $300 billion for 2021 and 2022.

Making money is a dirty business:

Nearly all cargo ships use low-grade ship bunker diesel combustion engines to power themselves. Some of the biggest tankers can carry approximately 4.5 million gallons of fuel. Ships emit a plethora of toxic substances such as CO2, nitrous oxides, and sulfur oxides, which are known to cause acid rain. The pollution one ship emits produces the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars; emissions from just 15 ships would be the equivalent of all of the cars in the world.

Do we believe this? Cars operate perhaps 2 hours per day while ships run 24 hours per day, so we can divide 50 million by 12 = 4 million. A car engine might be producing 20 horsepower on average, so that’s 80 million horsepower continuously from 50 million cars. A big container ship uses an 80,000 horsepower engine (example: the Evergreen A-class). If we assume that the container ship uses 100 percent horsepower at all times, it can pollute more than the 50 million cars only if it produces 1,000 times as much pollution per unit of power.

The rich white people who buy all of the junk in those containers aren’t affected, of course:

Port-adjacent communities in Southern California are habitually covered in a blanket of smog emitted from ships and trucks idling in and around the ports. Yale researchers found that a 1 percent increase in vessel tonnage in port “increases pollution concentrations for major air pollutants by 0.3–0.4% within a 25-mile radius of the 27 largest ports in the United States.” Black communities are disproportionately located near ports, and Black people are more likely to be hospitalized for port-related illness.

“The communities that are being harmed by shipping activity are not evenly distributed,” said Danyluk. “It tends to be low-income communities of color … People who are already being marginalized and exploited for whatever the reason are disproportionately impacted by this activity.”

Here’s a specialized container ship docked in San Diego that everyone can love… it contains only bananas:

But why is a ship that operates in the Pacific named the Dole Atlantic?

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Why aren’t cars (and pinball machines) auctioned as they come out of the factory?

I was in an Uber the other day here in Palm Beach County. It was a Kia Sorento, a small SUV that supposedly costs $30,885 new. The driver had recently purchased it, a 2019 model, for $28,000. It had 125,000 on the odometer when he agreed to pay $28,000.

Plainly a new Sorento, uninspiring as it seemed to me, is worth a lot more than $30,885 retail. Thus, it amazes me that Kia will keep selling these to dealers for the invoice price. Why not auction each vehicle as it is about to go into production (for buyers who want to choose colors and options) or as it comes out of the factory? That would enable the manufacturer to capture most of the profits that dealers are currently getting and it would even work better in a downturn. Instead of having to work overtime with incentive programs and rebates, the manufacturers would just naturally get less for each car in a recession.

A friend found a Toyota dealer agreement on It says “To buy and resell the Toyota Products identified in the Toyota Product Addendum hereto which may be periodically revised by IMPORTER” is a right granted to the dealer, but nothing about whether every 2022 Camry must be sold at the same price.

When information was being distributed on paper and auctions could be conducted only in person, maybe the fixed invoice/retail pricing system made sense. But why does it make sense now given that the cost of running an auction is a few dollars per item at most?

Nearly every house that is sold is subject to an auction, effectively, right? If it makes sense for houses, why not for cars? Art and decorative objects are auctioned by Sotheby’s. If it makes sense for a Barye at $1,260, why not for a car at $20,000+?

The same logic can be applied to almost anything that costs more than $100. The limited edition version of the Godzilla pinball machine was instantly sold out at $10,500. Stern left a huge amount of profit on the table (some people turned around and re-sold their machines for $15,000 or more) and plenty of potential buyers who would have been happy to pay more were disappointed. Why did it ever make sense to have a list price for this item? Same question for the $9,000 “premium” version of the game, which has a multi-month waiting list.

Let’s look at watches. A used in-production Rolex is worth $44,500, but Rolex sells it to dealers for the retail price of $12,400 minus the wholesale-retail discount. If we assume that a new Rolex Daytona is worth at least as much as a used Rolex Daytona, Rolex is giving up roughly $30,000 of profit on every sale. From Bloomberg, the jewelry store that PPP built:

If the answer is “consumers expect fixed prices and to consider a purchase for a few months before making a final decision,” coronapanic can be the excuse for a switch to an economically rational system in which everything reasonably valuable is auctioned, if not to the final consumer then at least to the retailer (who can adjust his/her/zir/their price accordingly).

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