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Elizabeth Holmes & The Meat-Grinder Of Capitalism

Posted in Creative Commons, and Journalism

Elizabeth Holmes’ guilty verdict chilled me in a way I didn’t expect until it happened.

During the trial, Theranos seemed to represent all the excesses of Silicon Valley. A place where “disruption” is more important than improving lives. Holmes claimed her blood testing devices would revolutionize medicine. The tabletop device could supposedly run dozens of tests off just a few drops of blood. It was all a dangerous lie and her fraudulent, sloppy testing services put human lives at risk.

The popular media suggested a guilty verdict might put the brakes on some of the worst behavior of the tech giants. And the jury found Holmes guilty earlier this month … of some of the accusations against her.

Out of the 11 counts against Holmes, the jury could only agree to a guilty verdict on 4 — all of them involving defrauding investors. On the rest, the jury either deadlocked or acquitted. That includes all the charges involving misleading doctors and patients with false testing results.

The message sent by this verdict seems quite clear, but not at all reassuring. You can harm, likely even kill people, as long as you don’t lie to your investors about it.

Tuning in to the Dropout

I’ve been devouring everything I could about the Theranos fraud, ever since I discovered podcasts like “The Dropout,” then sought out “Bad Blood” (the book and podcast), the HBO documentary and lots of other media I’m forgetting.

Elizabeth Holmes herself makes for a fascinating and troubling figure, but it was the other people in this story that made me want justice. The workers that fought against the roll-out of an unsafe and unethical medical technology, even if it cost them their jobs and tore their lives apart. The patients that suffered from misleading test results or a false diagnosis.

As an abolitionist, it’s complicated to get caught up in these stories. Justice is rarely, if ever a product of the American justice system. Fundamentally, I don’t think sending Holmes to prison fixes the harm she caused.

I was still surprised to see her verdict enable the next persuasive tech grifter.

Capitalism’s rule: Take their lives, not our money

Elizabeth Holmes smiles, sitting with one leg crossed over the other. She's dressed in her trademark Steve Jobs outfit, all black including a turtleneck.
Elizabeth Holmes’ guilty sends the wrong message to Wall Street.

Holmes was a total amateur with no significant medical training, but she told a good story.

That was good enough for investors to make her a billionaire, at least for a while. And her good story — that she meant well, that she really believed in what she was doing — may have convinced the jury to go easy on her when it came to the patients she harmed.

It’s looking like a very “Robocop” future. If you’ve forgotten, the original movie opens with corporate investors and execs laughing off the blood-soaked murder of a worker that’s killed by a police robot. It’s just the price of business.

Of course, capitalism has always meant that businesses could get away with murder. Look at the Bhopal disaster for just one egregious example. Even if it isn’t new, I think the verdict still matters as we witness capitalism transforming into its “final form.”

We’re living in a future where corporations like Uber and Lyft have already calculated the maximum number of people and pets they can run down with self-driving cars before it becomes a problem (for investors, not the communities where they kill). On a larger scale, the pharmaceutical companies are getting incredibly wealthy off human death during a historic pandemic by only allowing high-paying customers access to their intellectual property.

The Democrats are almost as eager as Republicans to shove workers through the COVID meat grinder in the name of Wall Street profits. We can never forget just how disposable our lives are.

The Elizabeth Holmes verdict chilled me because it’s yet another reminder of how little our survival matters under capitalism.

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