On the Performativity of Pill Pricing: Theory and Reality in the Economics of Global Pharmaceuticalization



One often-highlighted contemporary phenomenon in the pharmaceuticals industry is the use of “tiered pricing”, where essential medicines are sold more cheaply in low-income than high-income countries to widen access. With economists having for decades championed the applicability of such pricing to pharmaceuticals, this could be interpreted as a textbook case of “economic performativity”—the economic world increasingly conforming to economic models. In reality, however, tiered pharmaceutical pricing remains rare. Yet this article nonetheless urges retention of the performativity concept, albeit suitably reworked. For, insofar as the industry demonstrates nominal commitment to the model and to the social principles associated with it, it performs valuable political work. Moreover, it does help perform the pharmaceutical economy, by reproducing it in its existing form: repeatedly questioning the model's workability, Western manufacturers are able to continue to avoid putting it widely into practice and, in the process, jeopardizing the profits generated by conventional pricing.