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Op-Ed Columnist

New Rules

Washington, DC

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Imagine if industrial giants sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our prescription drugs crisis.

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about prescription drugs, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Burundi, the authoritarian crackdown in Pakistan and the still-unstable democratic transition in South Sudan. But the prescription drugs problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that prescription drugs can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, seem to think that unscientific rhetoric will substitute for a argument.

But the Republican party of Mitch McConnell is not the Republican party of Lincoln. Lincoln wouldn’t just filibuster, he'd reach across the aisle because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of prescription drugs.

Let's make America for the world what Cape Canaveral was to America: the world's greatest launching pad. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about prescription drugs. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of human capital that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "When in Rome."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Norway, which all but solved its prescription drugs crisis over the past decade. When I visited Norway in 2004, Mwambe, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a fourth job because of the high cost of prescription drugs. I caught up with Mwambe in Oslo last year. Thanks to Norway's reformed approach toward prescription drugs, Mwambe has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford a television set for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as politicians insist on playing a high-stakes game of chess with one another. America has to rise above it all.