WSJ: ‘The Biomedical Century’

‘Here is a staggering fact,” marvels John Lechleiter, the CEO and chairman of the drug maker Eli Lilly & Co. “In 1960 the average life expectancy in East Asia was 39. Thirty-nine! In 1990, 30 years later, it was 67. Think about that. Does that explain the Asian economic boom? I think it might go a long way.”

Longer, healthier, more productive lives, and more of them; more workers; an expanding middle class; more opportunities for the formation of capital—this virtuous medical-economic cycle, as Mr. Lechleiter sees it, is helping to generate the equally staggering growth in China and elsewhere in the region. “Wealth follows health, and it ain’t the other way around,” he says earlier this week, as the dawn catches the lenses of his horn-rimmed glasses here in his office atop Lilly’s sprawling research campus.

Mr. Lechleiter’s thoughts are in Asia not merely because he just returned from a trans-Pacific trade summit, or because emerging markets make up an increasing share of the pharmaceutical industry’s business. Amid fears of American decline, Mr. Lechleiter wonders, “What is it about this country, what do we need to do today not only to pull ourselves out of the vestiges or the grips of recession, but resume the strong economic growth that we need to provide the jobs that I reckon are our biggest current problem.”

Mr. Lechleiter has a few reforms in mind. The corporate tax code contains “one of if not the highest marginal tax rates in the world” and nicks income earned abroad when it returns to the U.S. “We need to move to a territorial system, period. Yes, companies like Lilly have a lot of cash outside the U.S. The question isn’t repatriation, the question is why that is happening in the first place. Those tens of millions of dollars, probably hundreds of millions of dollars depending on how you care to count, could be used to invest in this country and put people back to work.”

More broadly, Mr. Lechleiter says, prosperity depends “on the free movement of capital and talent, human capital.” More trade, for example, both foreign and domestic: He points out that Indiana is the country’s third largest exporter of medical products, after California and Texas. Stronger intellectual property protection is another, as is more immigration: He thinks every advanced degree in math, science, engineering or technology should come with “a green card stapled to the diploma. . . . The fact is, we go to Harvard University and hire a Chinese scientist and we have to work damn hard to keep that person here. That’s hurting this country.”….Read More

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