America’s Shkreli Problem


On Friday, Martin Shkreli was
sentenced to seven years in prison. What, if anything, does Shkreli’s downfall tell us about modern America? 

Shkreli’s early life exemplified
the rags-to-riches American success story. He
was born in Brooklyn, New York, in April 1983, to parents who immigrated from
Albania and worked
as janitors in New York apartment buildings. Shkreli attended New York’s Hunter
College High School, a public school for intellectually gifted young people, and
in 2005 received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baruch

But soon thereafter, Shkreli turned toward shady deals. He started his own hedge
fund, betting that the stock prices of certain biotech companies would drop. Then he used financial chat rooms on the Internet to savage those companies, causing their prices to drop and his bets to pay off.

In 2015, Shkreli founded
and became CEO Turing Pharmaceuticals. Under his direction Turing spent $55 million for the U.S.
rights to sell a drug called Daraprim. Developed in 1953, Daraprim is the only
approved treatment for toxoplasmosis, a rare parasitic disease that can cause
birth defects in unborn babies, and lead to seizures, blindness, and death in
cancer patients and people with AIDS. Daraprim is on the World Health Organization’s list of Essential

Months after he bought the drug, Schkreli raised its price by over 5,000 percent, from
$13.50 a pill to $750.00.

Shkreli was roundly criticized, but he was defiant: “No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it, but this is
a capitalist society, a capitalist system and capitalist rules.” He said he wished he had raised the price even
higher, and would buy another essential drug and
raise its price, too.

In February 2016, Shkreli was
called before a congressional committee to justify his price increase on Daraprim. He refused to answer any questions, pleading the Fifth Amendment. After
the hearing Shkreli tweeted, “Hard to accept
that these imbeciles represent the people in our government.”

Shkreli was subsequently arrested
in connection with an unrelated scheme to defraud his former hedge fund
investors. In anticipation of his criminal trial,
Shkreli boasted to the New Yorker
magazine, “I think they’ll return a not-guilty verdict in two hours. There are
going to be jurors who will be fans of mine. I walk down the streets of New
York and people shake my hand. They say, ‘I want to be just like you.’”

During his trial, Shkreli strolled into a room filled with
reporters and made light of a particular witness, for which the trial judge
rebuked him. On his Facebook
page he mocked the prosecutors,
and told news outlets they were a “junior
varsity” team.

He retaliated against journalists who criticized
him by purchasing internet domains associated with their names and ridiculing
them on the sites. “I wouldn’t call these people ‘journalists,’” he wrote in an
email to Business Insider. He said on
Facebook that if he were acquitted he’d be able to have sex with a female
journalist he often posted about online.

After his conviction, Shkreli called the case “a witch hunt of epic proportions, and
maybe they found one or two broomsticks.” As she imposed sentence last Friday, the
judge cited Shkrili’s “egregious multitude of lies,” noting also that he “repeatedly
minimized” his conduct.

Shkreli’s story is tragic and pathetic, but I ask you: How different is Martin Shkreli from
other figures who dominate American life today, even at the highest rungs?

Shkreli will do whatever it takes to win,
regardless of the consequences for anyone else. He believes that the norms other people live by don’t apply to
him. His attitude toward the law is that anything he wants to do is okay
unless it is clearly illegal – and even if illegal, it’s okay if he can get away with it.

He’s contemptuous of anyone who gets in his way –
whether judges, prosecutors, members of Congress, or journalists. He remains unapologetic for what he did. He is utterly shameless.

Sound familiar? The Shkreli personality disorder can be found on Wall Street, in the executive suites of some of America’s largest corporations, in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, in some of our most prestigious universities, and in Washington. If you look hard enough, you might even find it in Trump’s White House. 

Face it: America has a Shkreli problem.

Martin Shkleri will spend the next seven years of
his life in prison. But what will happen to the other
unbridled narcissists now in positions of power in America, who also blatantly defy the common