07 November 2007

From Panties to Prozac

To add fuel to the fire of Our woes comes another announcement of the closing of a pharmaceutical company. This time it's Bristol-Myers Squibb, with over 300 jobs disappearing around Santa Claus time.

To an "administration" that has executed its mythical strategies of economic development with the grace of a drunken hippo on ice skates, the news of this and the closings or cutbacks in Amgen, Eli Lilly and Pfizer are serious blows. Especially when you consider that, to local eyes and minds, the pharmaceutical industry represents the unquestioned crown jewel atop the manufacturing-centered dung heap We call "Our economic transformation."

To anyone with an ounce of gray matter in their skulls, the "sudden" contraction of this economic "shining star" comes as absolutely--absolutely--no surprise. It isn't a surprise because We never ever considered that the pharmaceutical industry here was anything other than a trumped-up manufacturing extension, never buying into the widespread, almost dogmatic view that they were something entirely different from the factory boxes of 50 years ago.

You see, Our "economic transformation" was taken on faith (pun intended) to have been a transubstantiation, i.e. a miraculous conversion of the mundane to the otherworldly. What it has been is nothing more than a makeover, where the ugly-but-plucky eyesore has money do its magic so as to emerge as a pleasantly-appealing person...with the exact same character flaws.

What the needle industry was for Operation Bootstrap in the 1940s, 50s and 60s was what the pharmaceutical industry became in the 1980s and 90s: The example of economic investment creating jobs. The transformation didn't change Puerto Rico's basic economic model at any fundamental level: It simply changed how much money flowed through and out of Puerto Rico. Instead of dingy boxes peopled by low-skill workers producing undergarments, We stepped up to shiny boxes peopled by low-skill workers with college degrees producing medication.

We went from panties to Prozac.

And yes, I said the pharmaceutical industry employed "low-skill" workers. Every pharmaceutical process is so tightly regulated that automation is the only standard, automation to the point where any average Juan or Juana can do the job. The single filter there is a college degree, to satisfy appearances. And if you need proof, check out how much these pharmaceutical companies invested over the past three decades on pure Research and Development done here. That's where the real high-skill jobs are, the ones that can truly transform an economic system..and they ain't here. They never were.

And let Me remind you statehooders: You wanted this. You lobbied long and hard and successfully to remove the Section 936 tax break that propped up these glorified pill-pushing pantries and the industry itself said that in doing so, the Island would cease to become an attractive option. No, you argued, they have invested too much and We are too experienced, too well-prepared to have them just pack up and leave.

Uh-huh. You made three mistakes:

1) You assumed that their business decision--based on shareholder profits--was to be made on the same basic interest as Ours, which is job creation. Without profits, jobs aren't created.

2) You assumed that Our "national abilities" would sustain the industry's interest when tax money was taken off the table. As My poker buddies used to say: "If there ain't no money, We look for another table."

3) You assumed that by relieving Uncle Sam's political headache, he'd be more amenable to the idea of thinking about imagining a day when he might possibly consider the notion of analyzing the potential process whereby the option of maybe suggesting statehood for Puerto Rico could be conceivably brought to someone's attention. Ha. Ha.

The question is: Now what? The king(snake) is dying! Long live the...what? Three successive misadministrations have wrestled in vain to create an economic development strategy suitable for a country where 30% of the workforce doesn't, 69% of the profits are repatriated elsewhere and 42% of those who do work are beholden to the government for their paychecks.

Here's a hint, Fools: You're the problem. Stop sniffing panties and swallowing Prozac. The answer--the answers--aren't found in the dusty boxes of yesterday or the shiny boxes of today. How about you, say, think outside the box, for a welcome change?

The Jenius Has Spoken.

No comments: